As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down across the country and around the world, customers are flocking back to in-person shopping. You might be eager to ramp up in-store activity at your small business again—but you're also looking to do so safely. Bringing customers back into the store comes with a new set of rules and practices around customer interaction. Plus, it could add unnecessary friction and cost for owners in an already precarious situation.

As you prepare your small business for life after the pandemic, here are three important insights about effectively communicating new safety regulations and in-person customer interaction policies.

1. Reach out now to set expectations.

You don't have to wait until customers are lined up at your door to communicate your expectations around customer interaction. Reach out now. Use the marketing and electronic communications tools at your fingertips—like email marketing and text marketing campaigns—to prime your customers about what in-store shopping will be like and address any hesitancies they might have.

"Shoppers want to be able to ask questions, see the merchandise, and get real-time support from staff members, all benefits that in-store shopping offers over online channels," retail expert Andrew Blatherwick writes for RetailWire. "Retailers need to renew their commitment to keeping their stores both safe and appealing."

Letting your customers know what to expect is a great way to ensure that customers feel comfortable making the trip to your store. Staff can be assured that customers will know how to be safe during their visits—a win for both customers and retailers.

2. Give clear instructions about safety and store capacity.

Consumers are more concerned now about public health and safety, and it's changed the way they shop, a consumer study from McKinsey & Company indicates. For example, 79% of consumers plan to continue or increase their use of self-checkout services after the pandemic dies down. Other reduced-contact options, such as delivery and curbside pickup, will be important in the wake of the pandemic, too.

To make sure customers feel comfortable and welcome in your store, you'll want to adopt as many of these recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as is reasonable.

Safety precautions customers want

Action step for small businesses

Wearing protective face coverings

  • Send an email or text blast to alert customers to your in-store mask policy.
  • Post clear signage reminding customers to wear masks.
  • Offer free masks at the store entrance.

Using disinfectants

  • Increase daily cleaning rounds.
  • Publish the store cleaning schedule where it is easily visible to customers.
  • Offer free hand sanitizer at the store entrance.

Shopping at less busy times

  • Create safe shopping hours for older adults and high-risk customers.
  • Post clear signage about these hours and announce them via email and text marketing systems.
  • Monitor and enforce capacity limits.

Using debit or credit cards to avoid exchanging cash

  • Explore turnkey touchless payment options and self-service options.
  • Maintain vibrant and up-to-date e-commerce and alternative pickup options for customers who don't want to shop in the store.

Using contactless payment methods

Maintaining social distance

  • Post clear signage reminding customers to stay at least 6 feet apart.
  • Consider installing temporary floor stickers to give guidance around how to line up at checkout.

3. Let customers know their options.

Customers got used to e-commerce and alternative pickup options like curbside pickup and buy-online-pick-up-in-store services during the pandemic. And they don't want to give them up any time soon. According to CommerceHub, 59% of consumers are more likely to use curbside pickup these days, and the 75% who subscribe to delivery services like Amazon Prime will continue using them after the pandemic subsides.

As you prepare for more in-store customer interaction, you must continue to communicate what online options are at the customer's fingertips, too. Use your social media presence and email marketing tools to direct customers to your website. Maintain an accurate digital inventory, too, to serve your customers in the delivery format that fits their needs.

If we've learned anything from the pandemic, it's that it's impossible to predict what's coming next. The best way to navigate what comes after the pandemic is to stay focused on your customers' needs. Using technology, you can clearly communicate how in-store customer interaction will change and let customers know that they can continue shopping online and using the alternative delivery methods they've grown accustomed to.

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