After operating under immense pressure for the better part of 2020, businesses could be forgiven for thinking – hoping – that relief was on the horizon. Australia had achieved the unthinkable for most countries, reaching multiple days of no COVID-19 community transmission. But outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria, border closures, and stricter restrictions saw the peak holiday shopping season marked by more subdued activity.

As Australia awaits the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s evident that retailers need to keep safety their number one priority. Recent research by SafetyCulture found that nearly half of all Australians (47%) were hesitant to shop in-store across the holiday season given the difficulties retailers face making stores COVID-safe*. A further 49% say they are unlikely to visit a venue that has had a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Clearly, safety is a differentiator for retailers to attract and retain customers, akin to quality products and great customer service. Even more crucial is the fact that shoppers are quick to pivot should brands fall short of safety standards.

Maintaining and building customer confidence is not a one-time exercise, it’s an ongoing endeavour. Here are four steps you can take to help reassure both customers and staff in-store in the new year:

Make it simple for frontline staff

One of the biggest challenges for businesses right now is the steep rise in complacency, not just from customers, but also from weary staff. Fight process fatigue by making ways of working simple when it comes to COVID-safe protocols.

This means eliminating unnecessary red tape and breaking down information into manageable chunks that people can act on. Simple checklists, repeated often, can be the most effective method for keeping on top of evolving compliance measures.

Empowering staff members with easy-to-use technology can go a long way towards improving their effectiveness in carrying out safety protocols. By equipping them with the tools and autonomy to drive in-store initiatives forward, we can help make COVID-safe practices easier to follow and maintain. Platforms such as iAuditor can help staff perform checks, report issues, and collect on-the-ground data in minutes.

Rethink traditional staff roles

It’s become clear that traditional operations models are ineffective in managing the pandemic. Compliance with health and safety requirements like sanitising and temperature testing is not just an expectation — it’s a value proposition. Customer service has continued its evolution far beyond manning the checkout counter.

It isn’t fair to expect staff members to stay up to date with constantly shifting COVID-safe government guidelines while managing increased workloads and stressful situations. Instead, enhance your customer’s in-store experience by creating new, safety-dedicated roles. Having safety marshalls in charge of cleaning, sanitising, and managing capacity limits can go a long way in rebuilding consumer confidence.

Turn pandemic protocols into long-term habits

As your eyes and ears on the ground, staff members are best placed to implement and improve safety practices. Employee buy-in is essential to making your COVID-safe strategy work. If staff complacency is creeping in, try changing the narrative.

Treat COVID-safe practices as an everyday habit rather than an effort to go beyond the call of duty.

Often, the most effective way to turn an action into a habit is repetition. Consider introducing new safety training methods that feature smaller chunks of information centred around specific topic clusters. When repeated often, these micro-lessons can help ingrain practices in memory.

This can be done by adapting your existing training routines to include this element, or by making the most of the latest micro-learning tools such as EdApp, which leverages the science behind what motivates people to learn and change their behaviour, like rewards and gamification.

Use your venue as a mouthpiece for safety

Make your retail venue work hard for you on the safety front so your staff isn’t the only mouthpiece for compliance. Use the space to your advantage with physical enhancements that make it easy for shoppers to do the right thing. 

Details like great signage, professional safety messages broadcast over AV systems, sanitiser stations, floor signs, and easily navigable store layouts allow your entire venue to become a safety signal. This frees up staff to focus on elevating the consumer experience in other ways — rather than their first interaction with customers being purely instructive.

Complacency in the face of lower case numbers is only human nature. But it’s also something businesses must safeguard against. The impact of COVID-19 on retail will linger well into 2021. Even when vaccination begins, it will not be a silver bullet. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past year it’s that the virus does not just go away — it takes dedication and collective action.

Now is the time to kick into high gear and embed a culture of safety where everyone — from staff members to window shoppers — is empowered to act.

Find SafetyCulture’s COVID hub of resources and tips here.

Alistair Venn is chief operating officer at SafetyCulture