Retail: Getting back to business quickly and safely

Hugo Tilmouth of CleanedUp offers retailers some guidance on getting back up-and-running

Written by Georgie Dobie

Posted 04.08.2020 | Retail

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The founder of CleanedUp, Hugo Tilmouth, a company focused on stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus by providing a network of hand sanitising dispensing stations in key locations across the country, offers retailers a 10-step process to help them get back to business quickly and safely.

By Hugo Tilmouth 

If you’re a shop owner in the UK, you’re bound to be feeling a mixture of emotions right now. On one hand, emerging from lockdown is exciting — the shop doors can open once again, bringing an influx of welcomed revenue.  

At the same time, though, we need to approach these next few months with due caution. We aren’t out of the woods just yet. You still need to keep a close eye on your bottom line, while also investing in all the necessary health and safety measures to keep you, your staff and your customers safe. 

It can be a little nerve-racking, but with good preparation, and a solid understanding of ever-changing government regulations, there’s no reason your store can’t bounce back. In this guide, we’ll break down ten of the most important steps that all retail businesses should be taking today. If you want to reopen quickly and safely, this is the stuff you need to know. 

A quick note on the legal requirements of reopening during a pandemic 

Before we go any further, it’s worth saying that what follows is simply our advice on getting back to business the best you can. And while we will be referencing Government guidelines throughout, it is important to read these guidelines in full yourself, before reopening your store — particularly in regard to whether you are legally allowed to resume service just yet.  

Non-essential retail stores have been able to re-open since June 15th – although not everyone has chosen to do so. Please click here for the current status of lockdown within the retail sector.  

Here’s how you prepare for retailing as (un)usual, during the rest of 2020 and going forward...  

1. Review all Government guidelines, and take the necessary actions  

When it comes to getting your retail store up and running post lockdown, your absolute first priority is to review and follow all Government guidelines. This is vital to both comply with the law, and protect the safety of yourself, your staff and your customers.  

For retail businesses like yours, the Government has released official guidelines that cover eight key sections, ranging from social distancing rules to potential PPE requirements. You can click here to access this document in its entirety — it’s the best place to start, when drawing up your coronavirus action plan.  

2. Conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment  

As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to protect the wellbeing of staff and customers. Of course, this has always been the case — that’s why we do health and safety assessments each year. 

But we’ve never seen anything like Covid-19 before. A pandemic requires totally new health and safety precautions and, as such, a more laser-focused way of assessing risk. 

That’s why the HSE (the Government agency responsible for Health & Safety regulation in the UK) have issued new guidelines that require businesses to carry out new risk assessments in regards to Covid-19.  

You can read through their official guide for more information on what this needs to cover specifically, and you can frame your assessment with this recommended template. But, generally speaking, your coronavirus risk assessment should highlight all the things you’re going to do to limit the risks of Covid-19 within your store.   

This should include enforcing social distancing rules, setting up precise cleaning procedures, providing the necessary PPE, and keeping your staff up to date with how you’re going to protect them.  

Once you’ve ticked those boxes, it’s worth displaying the Government’s risk assessment certificate somewhere visible — to help put both your staff and your customers’ minds at ease. 

3. Offer hand sanitising 

Government guidelines advise that frequent handwashing is the most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. But in a retail environment, that isn’t always possible — and that’s where hand sanitisers come in.  

Hand sanitisers are a quick and easy alternative to handwashing, and provide an unbeatable solution for minimising the spread, and protecting staff and customers from Covid-19. 

When picking a hand sanitiser, it’s important to be sure that it contains a WHO approved formula and is at least 60% alcohol-based. You’ll also need to think about how the hand sanitiser is presented within your store.  

Dispensing stations, for example, are a great idea, as they make it clear that hand sanitiser is available. Placing sanitiser dispensers near your front door and till(s) shows customers how seriously you are taking the fight against coronavirus — you can even get dispenser units customised with your own personal branding!  

For more information on providing NHS standard hand sanitiser for your staff and customers, click here to find out how we can help. 

4. Cleaning & disinfecting  

In a customer-facing environment, cleanliness has always been important. But now, it’s life-saving. 

Keeping your surfaces Covid-secure is going to be a team effort. So create a clear and focused rota, outlining everything that needs doing.  

First, you’ll need to focus on the key surfaces that pose the most risk, such as trolleys, baskets, card machines and till points. Ideally, these should be cleaned after every use. That’s why a rota is so important — it’ll help to organise whose responsibility that is throughout the day.  

Next, you should create procedures that encourage cleanliness more generally. Ask your staff to wipe down their checkouts as much as possible, and make sure that product shelves, rails and displays are cleaned before they are stocked up again. Government guidelines advise that your ‘usual cleaning products’ will be sufficient for this, so don’t worry about buying any specific formulas. So long as you stick to bleach or alcohol-based solutions, your efforts will be effective. 

Retail stores need to be cautious when placing returns back on the shop floor, too. It’s recommended to leave returned goods in “quarantine” for 72 hours, before they go back into commercial circulation.  

5. Provide PPE 

Government guidelines stipulate that PPE is only essential in medical environments. But your staff (and customers) might feel more comfortable if they are wearing a face covering, while spending time in-store. Talk to your staff about how they’re feeling, and make face masks available should they need them. 

Depending on the size of your store, you could also install plexiglass screens around checkout points where social distancing might be difficult to maintain, although this is entirely up to you.  

6. Offer flexible work arrangements  

Government rules state that all businesses must provide flexible work arrangements whenever possible. This, in usual circumstances, means allowing your staff to work from home. But that’s unlikely to be an option for those who work in retail.  

That said, it is still important to offer flexibility to your employees — especially for those at higher risk. Try to be understanding of people’s home-lives and responsibilities; if they need to care for a friend, or home-school their child, you should support them in this. 

And, of course, grant immediate time off if anyone reports coronavirus symptoms. Remember, it’s still mandatory for those with a fever or new, persistent cough to self-isolate under Government guidelines. 

7. Enforce social distancing rules  

Official Government guidelines state that all staff and customers must keep a 1m (in England) and 2m (elsewhere) distance at all times. This is the best and most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus, as it decreases person-to-person transmission.  

To enforce social distancing measures in your shop, you should: 

● Provide 1m/2m markers that make it clear where your customers must stand (particularly around checkout points)
● Be mindful of the amount of staff working within an aisle
● Consider introducing a limit on the number of customers allowed into your store at once.

Staff areas should be reassessed, too. If it’s difficult for staff to maintain social distancing while on break, you should consider closing small communal areas, and staggering break times as much as you can.  

8. Provide clear guidelines and signage throughout your store 

While we’re surrounded by coronavirus news most of the time, it’s still wise to leave a few health and hygiene reminders around your store.  

We’ve already mentioned 1m/2m markings, but there are a number of other visual cues you can lean on during this time. You can position posters around the shop, to remind people to wash or sanitise their hands, always cover their mouth when they cough, and sneeze either into a tissue or their arm if necessary.  

Additionally, if you choose to implement one-way systems or a ban on cash transactions (to avoid person-to-person contact), do all you can to make this as clear as possible, to avoid any confusion or frustration. 

9. Manage the risk of transmission 

When, or if, 1m/2m distancing isn’t possible, you should do all you can to manage the risk of transmission. This means providing alternative and new ways of working that put the safety of your staff and customers first.  

If, for example, your shop is very small and gets easily crowded, you should definitely consider allowing only 3 or 4 customers in at any one time. 

And if your product aisles are very narrow, or there isn’t enough room for socially distanced queuing, you must consistently manage both the amount of staff and customers present in these areas to avoid overcrowding.  

10. Consistently monitor employee health (and general circumstances)  

Monitoring the health of your employees is an extremely important part of protecting them, you and your business.  

Each day, you should check in with your staff and ask about their health and general circumstances. If a member of your team is unwell, or if someone in their household has symptoms, you should take immediate action and grant them sick leave — as advised by the Government.  

You should also encourage your staff to be open and honest with you about their situations. This means showing understanding, and making it easy for your team to request time off if they need it. 

Remember, when we overcome the virus, we’ll have done so as a collective — not as one person, or one retailer, putting their needs first. 

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