Shops are reopening after coronavirus lockdown. But they’ll look very different

Australia's shopping strips have been stripped of shoppers. While some stores will reopen soon, it will be very different.

Australia's shopping strips have been stripped of shoppers. While some stores will reopen soon, it will be very different. Photo: Getty

Retailers are prepping to reopen their physical doors – and inside won’t look like what shoppers are used to.

Be prepared to see store layouts changed drastically to enable social distancing, limited opening hours and staff wearing face masks.

Across Queensland and New South Wales, where restrictions are being gradually eased, chains like Myer, Kathmandu and Adairs are among the first to begin trial reopening.

The government has done its own pivot, transforming its Safe Work Australia site into a centralised information hub, for how to operate safely in the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be a different retail experience for sellers and consumers alike, experts say.

Shoppers will indeed notice distinct changes in the number of customers allowed in stores, reduced opening hours and less in-store inventory.

But Deloitte retail sector leader David White said shoppers can also expect to see (and snap up) sales, as retailers push through excess inventory they’ve gathered during the slowdown.

Mr White is heading up a webinar throughout the next week, with the Australian Retailers Association, to support retailers through this process.

He said the majority of retailers had indicated their No.1 concern about reopening was the safety of staff.

“This is of paramount importance to retailers who continue to put the safety of their staff first,” Mr White told The New Daily.

“A number of measures are being put in place, including: Thermal testing of staff, limiting customer numbers in store, shortening opening hours, rearranging store layouts to allow greater social distancing, and providing safety equipment such as sanitisers, greater cleaning of stores and face masks.”

It comes at the same time as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push on Tuesday to get “one million Australians back to work” – safely.

Easy does it

It won’t be an all-at-once approach to stores reopening, Mr White said.

Retailers are harvesting data and closely watching the competition to see which of their stores will yield the most benefits to opening first.

“There is still significant uncertainty around expected consumer demand once retail stores reopen, and with rent negotiations still ongoing with landlords, retailers are very focused on making sure only stores which have the potential to be profitable are reopened,” Mr White explained.

Industry analysts agree it will not just be government restrictions, but more so consumers who dictate how quickly bricks-and-mortar retail gets back on its feet.

“We are experiencing a downturn in the economy. People are suffering from job losses or reductions in wages and salaries or from reduced working hours,” Dr Louise Grimmer, marketing lecturer with University of Tasmania, told TND this week.

That’s why it will be the tortoise that once again wins this race.

Mr White acknowledged concern about consumer confidence, with significantly higher levels of unemployment that are likely to affect the total customer spend when stores are reopened.

“There will be more need to empower store associates and managers – consumer demands and shopping habits have changed, and so now more than ever management and owners need to get quick, up-to-date customer information,” he said.

“Previous sources such as customer buying history is likely to be mostly out of date and irrelevant.

“There has been a shift during COVID-19 in the types of quantities of goods being bought by consumers, which has meant demand planning for store reopenings has been very difficult.

“Retailers are building in more flexibility in demand forecasting and supply chains to allow them to respond to these changing buying habits.”

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