Across the nation, states have either begun lifting COVID-19 shelter-in place orders and business restrictions or are preparing to do so in the coming weeks. This is exciting news, but it’s important to remember that there are still very specific guidelines businesses need to follow to keep people safe from infection. To help you prepare to open your doors to customers again, here’s a preliminary list of action items to consider, including protective measures to keep people healthy, methods for creating new revenue streams, and marketing strategies to set customer expectations and ensure they come back when you’re ready.
Always Check with Your State and Local Guidelines
We’ve included below many of the best practices for opening your business to the public, as recommended by health agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC). However, specific regulatory orders can vary greatly from state to state, and even from county to county within a given state. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, meaning that things are liable to change. For all these reasons, it’s important to stay up to date with your state and local health agencies.
There are numerous news outlets tracking the status of each state, including this interactive map from the New York Times, which can be a great starting point to see how your state is handling the reopening of businesses.
The CDC has very clear guidelines for social distancing so as to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These will likely remain in effect, even as other restrictions are lifted, and include:
- Staying at least 6 feet from other people
- Not gathering in groups
- Staying out of crowded places and avoiding mass gatherings
That being the case, you’ll want to take measures to minimize crowding of customers at your business through a variety of methods:
- Limit the number of people allowed into your business at any given time
- Mark spots that are 6 feet apart wherever customers might be expected to line up, such as outside your front doors or at the cash register
- Create one-way foot-traffic signs for aisles, particularly if they are cramped
- Encourage people to order and pay in advance via phone, email, or your website and have an area for pickups that is separate from the line for walk-in customers
- Require appointments for customers, so as to optimize your time and that of your staff, as well as eliminate people sitting in waiting areas
The CDC also recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (i.e. grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. The reason for this recommendation is that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms, and wearing a face covering can help prevent them from spreading the disease to others.
Beyond the CDC’s recommendation, many counties and cities with a high number of COVID-19 outbreaks have mandatory face covering orders. That being the case, you will want to check with your local health agencies to determine whether face coverings are required for you and your employees. Similarly, you’ll want to find out whether they recommend checking employee temperatures before starting a work shift.
The COVID-19 virus is a respiratory illness that can be passed on by respiratory transmission as well as direct contact with contaminated objects, so it’s important to minimize physical contact as much as possible:
- Make sure you have a contactless-enabled payment terminal on site and encourage customers to pay with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and contactless credit cards
- Encourage your customers to order and pay before ever stepping foot into your business, so as to prevent the need for making payments on-site altogether
- For restaurants, that means making sure you have online ordering set up
- For other types of business, you can utilize a Virtual Terminal to run customer payments right from your computer for phone and email orders, or leverage your ecommerce platform for in-store pickup orders
Sanitize or Remove Frequently Touched Objects
Beyond enforcing social distancing and going contactless, you’ll want to implement several sanitization and safety measures to keep both your employees and customers healthy:
- Create a cleaning schedule to sanitize shared items like POS stations, payment terminals, loyalty tablets, door knobs, merchandise, countertops etc.
- When possible, have a staff member open and close the door to your business, so that customers don’t touch the handle
- Limit the use of common areas such as waiting rooms, lobbies, and employee break rooms
- Take extra efforts to ensure restrooms are frequently cleaned and sanitized
- Remove shared objects like microwaves, coffee makers, water coolers etc., and instead supply single-use beverages, condiments, snacks, etc.
- If you are preparing food or other consumables, check with your local health department to see there any new food preparation and safety requirements
- Additionally, if you know that an employee or customer with COVID-19 was at your place of business, you’ll want to perform an enhanced cleaning and disinfection, as recommended by the CDC.
Enforce Strict Employee Health Standards
The most effective way to prevent the transmission of illness, including the COVID-19 virus, is with strict personal hygiene practices.
- Require frequent hand washing
- Encourage them to avoid touching their faces
- Encourage them to sneeze, cough, clear their throat into a tissue or their arm
- Require them to stay home if they are exhibiting any respiratory illness symptoms (see here for extended sick leave resources from the U.S. Department of Labor)
You may also want to consider the following actions to encourage customers to practice good hygiene practices:
- Place signage promoting social distancing (6 feet or more between customers), and asking ill individuals to not enter your business, or to at least wear a mask
- Provide hand sanitizer or sanitizing stations at entrances to your business (to be used before and after entrance)
Stay in Contact with Customers and Seek New Revenue Opportunities
The truth is that not all businesses have been impacted equally by the COVID-19 pandemic, and some business types will be forced to pause normal operations longer than others. However, as we discussed in our recent analysis of our small business client payment processing data, many business sectors are finding ways to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. In particular, there are some good lessons to be learned from how the food & beverage industry has quickly transitioned to an off-premise business model with online ordering, take-out, delivery, family style meals, meal kits, and even groceries.
Other business sectors can incorporate similar technology and practices, even with something as simple as taking phone or email orders and running payments via a Virtual Terminal. For example:
- Salons could provide at-home color kits, products, and online classes/tutorials for at-home treatments (hair cuts, coloring, nails, makeup, etc.)
- Clothing stores and other retailers could sell products for curb-side pickup or mail delivery
- Dry cleaners and garment alteration businesses could incorporate a pickup and delivery service
- Personal trainers could teach online tutorials and classes
However it is you are able to serve your customers, it’s important that you stay in constant communication with them so they know how they can patronize your business. This can effectively be done via email and social media, both of which are getting great engagement right now with so many people staying home.
Here are some examples of the types of information you’ll want to pass on to customers to get them once again buying your products or services:
- Update them on your new business hours
- Outline the steps you’re taking to keep customers safe
- Tell them the best ways to order, purchase, or book an appointment with you
- Incentivize them to shop with you by offering limited time deals or special loyalty rewards
- Mention if you have gift cards for sale and how they can be purchased
- Remind customers why they love your business by utilizing social media to share some pro-tips that only you can provide, such as a recipe for one of your most popular dishes, a fashion tutorial, or a how-to video on using your products at home
While this continues to be a challenging time for small businesses, there are few people as resilient and resourceful as small business owners. Furthermore, there is a huge appetite from the public to support local businesses so we can all get through this together. As a reminder, it’s important to regularly check with your local county guidelines for the most up-to-date guidelines, and from there, it’s all about putting into place the right technology and processes to keep people healthy and happy. SpotOn is proud to be in a position to help in this regard, and do everything we can to help businesses adapt to whatever the future may hold.