As part of our recent #RetailReset series, SimpliField has been sharing all of the most up-to-date guidance we can find, from conversations with our clients to industry research to best practices shared by leading industry groups.

While approaches may vary by nation, region and state, and opinions vary widely depending on political sensibilities, until now there had not been a single, unified stance presented from retail industry leaders on how they believe retailers and governments should proceed as they re-open stores safely and in stages.

This week the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the National Retail Federation (NRF) laid out a sensible three-phase plan for reopening business for America’s retailers in an extensive new policy briefing called A Blueprint for Shopping Safe.

While they certainly don’t speak for all global (or even national) retailers, The National Retail Federation (NRF) is the world’s largest retail trade association. Its members include department stores, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, and independent retailers, chain restaurants, grocery stores, and multi-level marketing companies. The RILA includes Presidents and CEOs of the largest brands and retailers in the world, including Coca-Cola, Lowe’s, IBM, Intel, BestBuy, Target, Walgreens-Boots and many more.

Combined they represent most of the significant retail brands in the world, so it’s well worth your time to learn about what they suggest.

Here’s everything you need to know:

What’s the Goal for Retailers?

With stay-at-home orders expiring in several states, businesses across the country are gearing up to reopen. It’s a long-awaited moment for America’s more than one million retailers, an estimated 630,000 of whom were forced to shut down due to COVID-19. But it also comes with considerable uncertainty.

With that in mind, the Blueprint for Shopping Safe lays out three goals from the outset:

  • Protecting communities
  • Supporting the  safe reopening of retail establishments
  • Creating clear — and shared — expectations among employees and customers

These are especially critical at a moment when uncertainty continues to reign. Perceptions often count just as much as official proclamations — and until there’s a widely available vaccine or testing capabilities, the reality is that retail customers are going to tread cautiously.

All of this underscores the importance of having guidelines in place. Uniform, statewide protocols, as the blueprint calls for, will be essential for retailers to keep their employees and customers safe and healthy as we transition back to work.

Breaking Down a Three-Phase Approach

More than anything, the blueprint is an actionable document. It directly engages with government — in this case, the governors who will be tasked with reopening businesses on a state-by-state basis — and lays out a three-phase approach.

Phase One: America’s Supply Chain

The first phase, which many states are entering now, focuses on rebooting America’s supply chain. How? By reopening distribution centers and warehouses and prioritizing contactless transactions for retailers — e-commerce, curbside pickups, in-home deliveries and more. That way, retailers can get back to work, albeit with social distancing and health and safety protocols fully in play.

Curbside pickups — what Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls “retail to go” — have already proven to be a boon for companies during the coronavirus outbreak, increasing in volume by an average of more than 200% during the coronavirus outbreak. The blueprint sensibly argues that the same privileges given to restaurants, which have been allowed to remain open for contactless pickups and in-home deliveries, should be extended to retailers immediately.

Phase Two: Reopening Retail to the Public

The second phase entails reopening retail establishments to the public. As to when exactly that should happens, the blueprint takes a pragmatic view, acknowledging it will need to be determined by the CDC in conjunction with state-level health officials and other experts.

Critically, during this phase, many of the health and safety protocols we’re accustomed to right now will remain in place. In fact, the blueprint includes special guidance for:

  • Social distancing among customers and employees
  • In-home deliveries and installations
  • Hygiene
  • Sanitization
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Health screening

In that vein, the blueprint calls on governors to define clear “standards” to guide retailers during this vein. What’s more, it asks that a single state agency be put in charge of enforcing those standards.

Phase Three: Gradually Transitioning to Normalcy

This third and final phase will see social distancing requirements lifted or suspended, and business operations returning to something like normalcy. But the blueprint stops short of putting a specific timeline on the move — that, ultimately, will be at the discretion of the CDC, state health departments and other health officials.

Even then, however, some restrictions will remain, and the blueprint lays out new sanitization and employee guidelines to that effect. Clearly, even when the rate of new infections finally appears to be flattening nationwide, protections will need to be in place to help protect the health and safety of retail customers and employees alike.

Key Takeaways

Retailers of all kinds, from groceries to pharmacies, have been more essential than ever during the coronavirus outbreak. And among those forced to close their doors due to the pandemic, we’ve seen great example of inspiring and compassionate leadership, too. Now more than ever, as many states begin to reopen, it’s imperative that governors heed the comprehensive guidance laid out in this valuable blueprint.

Shared standards and guidelines for enforcement are essential for a successful transition. SimpliField supports smart, consistent guidelines informed by and shaped alongside trained health and safety professionals. They’re the only way we’re all going to get back on our feet and make our new normal resemble the old one.