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When the doors to your favorite stores finally swing open, you might be in for a bit of a surprise.
What’s in store once lockdowns are lifted?
Have you been counting down the days until you can stroll into your favorite store and embark on a carefree (or, more likely, careful) shopping spree? While you’ve been sheltering in place, retailers have been reimagining the post-lockdown shopping experience, figuring how to make it both safe and enticing. Believe it or not, some of the changes were already in motion, like increased online ordering and store pickup, according to Katherine Cullen, the Senior Director of Industry and Consumer Insights for the National Retail Federation (NRF). Of course, coronavirus accelerated those changes, and they will likely be a lasting part of our new normal for the foreseeable future. “As states begin to reopen, consumers are cautiously optimistic,” Cullen explains. “According to a consumer survey fielded on May 20, consumers say they anticipate it will be July or later before they feel comfortable shopping in stores again.”
So, how will stores try to make you feel more comfortable? You’ll definitely be seeing some protocols you expect—including markers for social distancing, masked (and healthy) employees, plenty of plexiglass and hand sanitizer, and fewer customers milling about—but there will also be some subtle changes. Like many other things, including these everyday habits that could (and should) change after coronavirus, shopping won’t be the same as it used to be, at least for a while.
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Some stores might be closed—for good
Before you dash off to the mall to shop at your favorite department store, make sure that it’s actually still in operation. Many stores have filed for bankruptcy, and some retailers, whether in bankruptcy or not, are closing select locations to stay viable. For example, as part of its restructuring under bankruptcy, J.C. Penney will be shutting down 240 department stores over the next two years. Nordstrom also recently announced that it will permanently close its three Jeffrey luxury specialty stores, as well as 16 of its full-line department stores. And that’s not all: Analysts at UBS predict that 100,000 stores will close their doors by 2025 and that 24,000 of them will be apparel retailers.
If you do head out to engage in a little retail therapy, make sure to clean these 12 things when you return from the outside world.
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Curbside pickup could be the new normal for a while
While online shopping was the sole way to satisfy your shopping needs when you were sheltering in place, BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up in Store) is part of many states’ transition plans. Many retailers are offering store-to-door or curbside pickup as they lift out of lockdown. “According to an IBM study earlier this year, adoption of BOPIS has [more than quadrupled] since 2014,” says Cullen. “Many retailers are now emphasizing e-commerce offerings and curbside pickup options to serve customers safely during the pandemic.” Here’s when every state is expected to reopen.
You might not be able to try on clothes before buying them
It won’t be one size fits all when it comes to how stores deal with opening or operating fitting rooms. Nordstrom, for example, will be opening a few of their dressing rooms (possibly two or three per store) and cleaning them between uses. But Kohl’s, Urban Outfitters, Gap, and Target will keep their dressing rooms closed until further notice. Learn how to avoid germs while grocery shopping—or going to any other store.
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Your clothes may be quarantined
While many states have issued guidelines for when and how retailers can open, there are no real guidelines for the way companies should manage the handling of products, like clothes that are touched by numerous people. But many stores are going out of their way to make shoppers feel comfortable. Translation: If you try on or return an article of clothing, it most likely won’t be heading back to the rack right away. Instead, it could be removed from the sales floor for 24 to 48 hours or more and possibly even cleaned before being put back. In the long term, stores may use ultraviolet-light or ozone-based technology to sanitize garments.
Social-distancing measures may extend to store bathrooms
While you may want to stay away from public restrooms right now, sometimes nature calls at the most inopportune moments. Stores are taking precautions, of course. While Connecticut Post Mall and similar venues have installed plexiglass dividers in restrooms, others like Simon Mall are taping off every other sink and urinal to ensure proper social distancing. Here’s what Walmart, Target, and other stores have been doing to keep shoppers safe.
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You might have to use your imagination to see how that lipstick looks on you
Even though you may be wearing a mask when you’re out and about, you may still want to buy a new lipstick for that Zoom interview or virtual date. But finding the perfect lip color (and foundation and eye shadow) will take a little extra work. Sephora recently announced that its locations will no longer allow in-store makeup testing, while Ulta issued a statement saying that it will be elevating sanitation protocols by frequently cleaning and disinfecting the stores, making hand sanitizer available, and having their associates wear masks and participate in daily wellness screenings. Ulta will also be banning testers and encouraging customers to use its app for a virtual try-on experience.
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You’ll likely be greeted and counted
Many stores will be monitoring customer access and occupancy limits. A greeter may usher you into the store, offer you a mask or hand sanitizer, or disinfect your shopping cart. In a statement about its new protocols, Kohl’s noted that “an associate greeter will be stationed at the front of the store with the sole role of welcoming customers, sanitizing carts between each use and limiting occupancy, as appropriate.” Guidelines for capacity vary by state. In Connecticut, malls and stores must limit capacity to 50 percent, while small retail stores in Wisconsin can let in only five customers at a time.
You’ll probably need to adjust your expectations
While you will have greater access to shopping in public once lockdowns are lifted, it may be a while before you can have up-close and personal experiences like ear piercings, bra fittings, or alterations at stores including Macy’s. In fact, any up-close and personal experiences will be limited. As the Washington Post reports, clothing will be folded a certain way at American Eagle Outfitters “to encourage hands-off browsing.” At Pandora, a Danish jeweler with 375 stores in the United States, new protocols are in place to make sure that customers are always at least six feet from employees when being presented with and trying on jewelry, which will then be sanitized immediately and in full view of other customers.
By Stacey Marcus