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As Lockdowns Begin to Ease, This Is How Retailers Are Gearing Up for the New Normal

As governments around the world prepare to ease widespread coronavirus-induced lockdowns, the retail industry is gearing up to reopen nonessential stores under newly issued guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the United States, the National Retail Federation unveiled a set of instructions for retailers that are opening back up shop during the pandemic. The plan — dubbed “Operation Open Doors” and developed with input from hundreds of leaders in the sector, as well as advice from national health experts and government entities — prioritizes four areas: health and safety; people and personnel; logistics and the supply chain; and litigation and liability.

“Reopening the retail sector and putting our economy back on track will require a gradual, phased-in approach,” the retail group wrote in a letter dated Sunday and addressed to President Donald Trump. “The smart, iterative strategies our members are building will help guide policymakers and business leaders as we work to restore the American economy.”

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The measures would include continued social distancing efforts, which requires that retailers limit occupancy for customers and initially deploy only the minimum number of employees needed to fulfill orders. High-contact areas will need to be regularly sanitized, while stores are advised to have signage or audible announcements about the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as install plexiglass shields where needed.

Although health authorities continue to recommend the use of personal protective equipment, some employers are seeing a scarcity in the supply of face masks and gloves for workers and customers. “Retailers intend to provide — and many already are providing — PPE in line with [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] guidance for their employees’ protection,” read the letter, “but continued shortages are likely to hamper their efforts.” The NRF urged consumers who do have their own protective equipment to use them in public spaces while shopping.

Some businesses — including big-box chain Walmart and rival retailer Amazon — have pledged to begin screening employees’ temperatures when entering their facilities. However, like the face masks and gloves, thermometers and coronavirus diagnostic exams are also facing a shortfall, and the NRF noted that “federally consistent guidance, standardization of testing protocols and uniform documentation for employers” will be “critical” to success.

“As a community, retailers are preparing for new processes, consumer behaviors and legal requirements or restrictions, where there was once no playbook,” the group added. “Our country must not allow a lack of resources, regulations that are not fit-for-purpose and the fear of litigation to delay efforts to return to work and live safely and sustainably.”

Less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced “Opening Up America Again” — a three-phase process to restart the economy on a state-by-state basis. The plan would keep restrictions in place in the hardest-hit areas, with less-affected parts of the country to reopen sooner. Some states that have already reopened some nonessential businesses include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, the British Retail Consortium — the nation’s retail industry lobby group — has also published its own guidance to assist retailers that are reopening during the health crisis.

Similar to the NRF, it sought to place a cap on the number of customers in stores at any particular time, while reducing the number of entry and exit points at such outposts (or having separate entry and exit points where possible). In addition, it advised that all stores provide hand sanitizer, if available, as well as disinfectant wipes or tissues and sprays for baskets.

Further, the BRC urged retailers to consider keeping dressing rooms closed and encouraged shoppers to use cashless forms of payment to reduce the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 3.02 million people around the world and led to at least 209,700 deaths.

“Continued close collaboration with government — including public support for the steps retailers are taking and adequate notice to get supply chains up and running — will mean that retail businesses can start trading again slowly and safely, and customers can feel confident that they are safe to return to shops,” BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said.

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