After months of lockdowns and ‘closed’ signs in store windows across Melbourne’s high streets, the city’s retailers are once again opening their doors to eager and excited shoppers – right in time for peak retail season. While the return to bricks-and-mortar shopping over the last week is exciting for business, shoppers and the industry as a whole, it’s important to ensure your store’s reopening adheres to guidelines that ensure you’re keeping customers and staff safe. Whether you have already reopened your doors following the easing of restrictions or you’re about to do so, here’s how to create a COVID-safe environment and generate excitement in the lead up to the festive shopping rush.

Set yourself up for success

While the excitement of reopening and making up for lost time might tempt you to cut corners, it’s important to first ensure you’re ready to accommodate in-store customers again. If you haven’t reopened yet – or you have but things aren’t running as smoothly as you’d have hoped – conduct a physical inventory count to see what you have, where it is, and confirm that it’s logged on your digital stock control system.

If you haven’t yet reinstalled your utilities like electricity, WiFi, POS and retail management systems, do so. If you have a sophisticated cloud POS, the good news is it will be up to date, even if you haven’t been in the store itself. Once you have confirmed your systems are set up and ready to go, run performance reports to determine what items to sell and promote when shoppers return. Then, it’s time to create or finesse your COVID-safe plan.

Keep your staff and customers safe

If you’re yet to reopen, it’s important ensure you have COVID-safe procedures in place before you do. If you are open, and aren’t already operating with a plan, you must do so immediately – penalties apply for businesses flouting the rules and ignoring their responsibilities. Don’t take any chances; protect your staff and customers with signage that outlines any guidelines or compulsory policies and add markers or decals on your floor, particularly near the checkout, so people know where to stand and what to do. Sanitise shelves, racks and other surfaces often and make protective supplies like hand sanitiser readily available so shoppers feel comfortable.

If your store is small or heavily-stocked, consider temporarily re-configuring the layout to avoid crowding. You may also want to accept only contactless forms of payment, limit access to fitting rooms, or take customers’ temperature before permitting them to enter. Without your staff you can’t possibly implement your plan or deliver the delightful experiences that Melbourne shoppers have been missing for the last few months, so ensure your team knows what is expected of them.

Just as important as the plan itself, is ensuring you’re effectively and regularly communicating any changes and updates with your customers. Restrictions are fluid, and could ease or tighten again quickly, so keep a close eye on announcements. As soon as something changes, whether that’s your opening hours, customer capacity or something else entirely, ensure your customers know.

Ramp up sales

Many shoppers have become accustomed to shopping online, but it’s important to implement a post-lockdown sales strategy that caters to every customer, on every platform. An omnichannel strategy combines an effective, targeted ecommerce presence with the delightful experiences and beautiful products on your shop floor. With the approaching Black Friday marking the start of peak retail season, there’s little time to waste creating a strategy that ties online and offline together.

This could involve listing your in-store inventory online, implementing loyalty schemes, introducing click and collect and using targeted marketing to promote your products, shout about your reopening, detail your COVID-safe plan and reconnect with your customers. Retail won’t go back to ‘normal’ immediately, but through an omnichannel sales strategy you’ll be able to serve anyone, whether they’re ready to return to shop floors or prefer to shop online for the time being.

Whether you’ve already reopened your doors to customers or are about to do so, with easing of long-term restrictions comes excitement, but it’s important to remain cautious while implementing effective reopening and sales strategies. Be prepared, understand your COVID-safe responsibilities and use an omnichannel sales strategy to make up for lost time ahead of the festive shopping season.

Gordana Redzovski is vice president for Asia Pacific at Vend.