It’s never too late to prepare.
Target is cleaning checkout lines every 30-minutes, Starbucks is banning travel mugs. “It shows that they understand what the issues are,” says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at The Wharton School of Business. Kahn also stated that feeling safe while shopping will outlast the virus itself. But will it work?
Some key elements for consideration:
1. Customer Assurance – Customers will steer clear of environments where they feel unsafe. We’ve seen the effects that poor lighting has on gasoline sales as mostly women refuse to buy gas in dimly lit environments. Other considerations might be:
a. Cleanliness – Evidence of constant cleaning may help to assure customers that all steps are being taking to ensure their safety. Install hand sanitizers in several places in the stores: at the sales counter, at entry and exit points, and near fueling stations. pumps
b. Clutter – Convenience stores, mostly due to their compact size, tend to allow clutter to accumulate on shelves at the sales counter. 1) Pay special attention to remove unnecessary items from the sale’s counters, and wipe the surfaces down between each sale. (COVID-19 can live for 24 hours if present on surfaces). Customers will notice this and talk about it. 2) Remove unnecessary products from shelves. 3) Remove any products that look old, and pay special attention to those that may be sticky or have dust accumulated … anything that will make the look suspicious.
c. Spills – Attend to spills immediately. Mop and clean the floors several times a day.
d. Bathrooms – Bathrooms must be kept meticulously clean and checked frequently. Place hand sanitizers on shelves, be sure the soap dispensers are filled, and paper towel holders are clean and easily accessible. Remover trash several times each day, provide toilet lid shields, anything and everything possible to make your customers feel safe.
2. Employees – Employees should be encouraged to wash their hands several times during the day. Wearing gloves could be an option. If they are sick, or coughing and sneezing they should not be allowed to work. ‘Paid sick leave’ may or may not be covered in the ‘Coronavirus Relief Package,’ but it is something to keep an eye on.
3. Fuel Sales – The effects on fuel sales are not clear. Will people drive less? Will some of this be offset by an increase if driving while caring for an infected family neighbor or friend. We just don’t know yet. As the virus continues to spread, and travel declines, stores of fuel will increase and prices will drop. If refineries are forced to shut down, prices may increase quickly and dramatically. This could create havoc in book-keeping systems. For example, if you have 3 million gallons in your stores, and the price were to suddenly drop by 50 cents per gallon, you would lose $1.5 million of capital instantly. If sales continue to fall, the invoices for fuel you purchased at a higher price will still come due. The opposite is also true, so prepare yourself for what could lead to pandemonium in the fuel market.
4. Food Shortages – You cannot predict “panic buying.” You could wake up one day and find your stores virtually empty with a limited ability to replenish those items. With much of our goods being imported from China, we cannot predict how long it will take to restock our stores.
5. Environment – Clean and clear windows that look into the store. Customers may not want to enter a store where the view is absurd — signs, stacks of products, poor lighting, the appearance of clientele and employees and the general overall look has never been more important.
These are basic things that may affect all of us in the short term. Predictions for the long term are mostly guesses. The future effects on the supply chain are serious and ambiguous. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Bill Scott is the author of two retail books, a convenience store retailing consultant, speaker and president at StoreReport LLC.