Light at the End of the Tunnel? Is your Fashion Business ready?
It's been a tough couple of months. Businesses around the world are struggling to cover costs while income is almost non-existent, and messages from governing agencies have been mixed at best. But as we enter the second month of the crisis, there suddenly seems to be a change in the air. For the first time in weeks, it feels as if there is an end in sight – perhaps this feeling of having our lives on hold may not last forever? In Europe the de-escalation of the lockdown has already begun – Italy re-opened factories on 27th April and remaining industries are expected to recommence business from the first week in May, while France and Spain predict a gradual lifting of restrictions during the second half of the month. It's time to start preparing once more to open doors and welcome back customers, but is your retail business prepared for this new phase?
When the crisis first began, many of us expected to have to stay indoors for a couple of weeks and then things would return to normal – shops and restaurants would simply re-open their doors and everything would go back to the way it was before. It's now clear that those ideas were naive at best. Until a vaccine can be created and distributed worldwide, we are going to have to maintain some level of social distancing, and protecting both colleagues and clients must be a priority for any business owner. The good news that there are some practical steps that we can already make to start getting ready to adapt to the new “normal”.
Social Distancing in Retail Stores
The British Retail Consortium has published a guide to the best practices shops will need to implement as they open back up to the public. This is likely to adapt as we learn more and trial new safety measures, but to begin with the basic guidelines to follow and prepare for are:
- Limited number of customers and staff
In the same way that most of our supermarkets are already working, retail and fashion businesses will be required to limit the number of customers allowed into their stores at any one time, and to provide the minimum amount of staff required to provide service while maintaining the 2 metre social distancing recommendation.
- Maintain customers informed
It's recommended to prepare a meet-and-greet for customers to provide them with hand sanitiser or gloves (if possible), and to let them know the restrictions that have been put into place for their safety. We can also prepare signs to be posted around the store and recorded announcements to provide as much information as possible.
- Changing rooms
For the moment the general recommendation is that changing rooms stay closed, however some stores in Germany and Austria have been experimenting with limiting their changing room space to one or two cubicles, and disinfecting these after each use. Products that have been tried on by customers should also remain off the shelves for 24-48 hours to minimise risk of cross-contamination and contagion.
- Physical barriers
If possible you may want to consider erecting screens to separate your customers from your till staff. For larger stores it is recommended to create a system of floor markings to separate customers who are queueing, or to direct them around a one-way system. All staff should wear masks - while not a guaranteed protection, they are proven to help limit the possible spread of the disease, and the simple act of wearing a mask serves as a reminder not to touch our face
For both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, questions have arisen with regards to how to deal with returned clothing items. Unfortunately, there are no clear government recommendations as yet regarding how to disinfect clothing products, however the World Health Organisation (WHO) does suggest that the likelihood of an infection being transmitted via commercial goods is very low. The best guess solution as we stand is that returned products should be stored for at least 48 hours before being put back on sale.
Not so long ago it seemed that the only thing we should be worrying about is how to move surplus stock caused by the drop in retail sales, but as we move forward we need to be planning ahead to make sure our stock level matches demand as closely as possible. It does feel a lot like guesswork at the moment (although we created another article with the most likely changes in trends to come out of the crisis), plus traditional fashion sourcing methods like Trade Shows are likely to be off the cards for the foreseeable future, as international travel and large gatherings remain banned. Short order stock seems to be the best solution for both retailers and wholesalers, allowing wholesalers to continue selling the stock they had prepared prior to the crisis, while retailers can buy as and when they need, without the necessity of investing in large forward orders that may no longer be relevant to their clientele. TradeGala offers a great selection of instantly available stock from wholesalers throughout the world and there's no need to step outside your door, as orders are processed online via a user-friendly platform which is as simple to navigate as the e-commerce store that you use for your weekly shop. We're offering free registration to both buyers and sellers in the hope of assisting businesses to survive the crisis and preparing for the future
Looking to the Future
There will come a time when we will look back at the Spring of 2020 and wonder how on earth we coped. It's not what any of us would have wanted, but when faced with challenge, we can only look to the future. If we continue to follow the social distancing guidelines set up to protect our communities we will soon begin to see things start to return to some semblance of normality. It may not be like it was before. But if we prepare to meet the unknown with the same fortitude that we have faced the current crisis, and work together to build strong business relationships that will see us through difficult times, we will be ready for whatever the future has in store for us.
Written by Amber Domenech Patey