How to prepare your retail store for a COVID/pandemic holiday season

In this 6-minute read:

  • Changes in shopping trends due to the pandemic
  • Tips to prepare for the holidays during COVID

Shopping in 2020 as a whole has been dramatically different from previous years. With customers and business owners doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19, consumer shopping trends have become unpredictable. And even as things start to get a little more normal towards the end of the year, it’s difficult to tell what the holidays will look like for retailers this season. 

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Shopping trend changes for 2020

Trends in consumer shopping have changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Generally, we’re seeing less spend from consumers in stores, more online shopping, and a strain in the supply chain in specific industries. 

Lower spend (with some exceptions)

With many consumers facing financial stress from job loss, salary reduction, or time off from illness (whether their own or a family member) and taking extra precautions by only shopping when absolutely necessary, spend has been down in most businesses. 

There are some notable exceptions, of course. Grocery stores and sporting goods/firearm stores have been having record sales all year. Check out our reports for more info:

More online shopping

Online shopping has increased due to the need to social distance, boredom, and likely several other factors. More retailers are making their products available online and even providing delivery or curbside pickup options for people who don’t want to go into their stores. 

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Strain in supply chain

At the start of the pandemic, we saw strains in supply chain for hygiene supplies like hand sanitizer, soap, cleaners, and of course, toilet paper. While those strains have settled a little, the influx of shopping during the holiday season, and the “second surge” of COVID cases in many locations could cause this strain again, not only for hygiene supplies, but also for food, decorations, and other holiday essentials. 

Tips to help your retail store prepare for holiday shopping during COVID

Keeping the above trends in mind, we’ve put together a few helpful tips to prepare your retail store for this holiday season. 

Prepare for in-store shoppers with good hygiene practices

Even amidst the pandemic, you are likely to see an influx in holiday shoppers in your stores. Prepare for this by maintaining good hygiene practices so you don’t have to close your doors due to employees contracting the virus. 

  • Require masks to be worn in your store, by employees and customers
  • Advise employees to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds during breaks and before and after eating
  • Wash surfaces that receive frequent contact on a regular basis: checkout counters, doors and handles, shelves, shopping carts, etc.
  • Set up hand sanitizer stations at the entrance/exit of your store and throughout the store. Get automated dispensers if possible
  • Have cleansing wipes available for customers to wipe down shopping carts as they enter the store

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Solidify your online presence

We don’t expect the trends in online shopping to change during the holidays. In fact, this year there may be more online sales than ever before. Prepare for that by making sure your online presence is solid. 

Ensure that all of your new offerings are available in your online store or at least announced on your website to encourage people to stop by your store. 

Even if you don’t have an online store (though we highly encourage it), make sure customers can at least find your business online by optimizing your Google My Business listing. Set your holiday hours, upload pictures, and update your business description with holiday promotions. 

Announce your holiday deals on your social media channels and website, and even create a few ads online to make sure they reach new customers. 

You might like: The complete guide to Facebook marketing for small businesses 

Address your inventory needs

Retailers can usually count on an increase in sales around the holidays, but this year is going to be more difficult than ever to predict sales numbers and how much you’ll need to prepare for the holiday frenzy. 

Pay attention to the demand in your store this year and from your holiday season last year and use that to help project your holiday sales. Even with the trend of spending less during COVID, it’s always better to be overprepared. 

This next tip can help you be overprepared while saving on costs and making it possible to sell any overstock items at a normal price. 

Limit potential for holiday “leftovers”

During holiday shopping, many retailers try to make their products festive to appeal to the cheer of the season. That’s great! But with the projected trends and less people in your stores this year, you may need to get creative in how you make your products more festive. 

Traditionally, retailers might create custom-designed holiday boxes and packaging for specific products. While that’s all fine and dandy, it creates a problem if you don’t sell every item designed for this holiday season. You’ll have to deeply discount it when the holiday is over or discard the product altogether if you have too much leftover. 

A couple of ways that you can make your products more festive without the cost of custom labeling and with the ability to sell “leftovers” at a normal price include:

  • Add holiday stickers to your regular packaging (place the stickers as the items are being stocked on the shelves or shipped out)
  • Use your standard containers instead of seasonal specialties and add unique labels to them
  • Add extras to packages like coupons, holiday swag, and stickers to give it the personalized holiday cheer
  • Sell products that you can continue to sell after the holidays are over

Cater to customer capacities

In many places still, COVID guidelines dictate how many customers can be in stores, especially those smaller and more enclosed. Cater to these capacities to help your store get more business during the holiday season. 

  • Extend your business hours to allow more people to go through your store in a single day
  • If customers have to wait outside, set up stands they can browse on their way in and large posters with your best deals on them
  • If the outdoor wait times are significant, advertise your online store or app so that customers can shop while they wait or even make their purchases from the comfort of their vehicle or home
  • Organize your store in such a way that allows for more space between customers at the checkout

African-american man holding holiday packages and wearing a face covering

Extra staff

Holidays are busier for everyone, and even though this year may look a little different, that’s not likely to change. Make sure you have the staff that you need available for the influx in shoppers and extra tasks during this holiday season. 

Extra tasks this year might include sanitizing shelves and high-traffic areas, monitoring queue lines outside the store, or even having a couple of extra floor patrols to encourage good hygiene and safe shopping practices during the pandemic. 

With the potential for increased physical contact, it might even be wise to have a few additional staff members hired than usual in case someone (or multiple someones) contracts COVID-19. 

Keep your customers informed

Lastly, always keep your customers informed. Whether your hours are going to change drastically or you have some awesome new deals, make sure they know about it. Blast that out on your social media channels and your website, and set up email marketing campaigns to inform your current customer base of any news they’ll need during the holidays. 

Womply’s automated email marketing engine can help you out there. By connecting your current customer lists, you can send out custom-tailored emails to keep your customers aware of your news and maintain good relationships with them. 

Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!


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