Compared to last year, foot traffic is down for many brick-and-mortar stores. There's no question as to the root of this problem for businesses: stay-at-home and lockdown restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus. But as businesses open back up, the "new normal" puts these businesses in a bind.
Businesses are attempting to comply with public health best practices such as social distancing while also encouraging people to shop at their store. On its face, this may represent something of a paradox for these businesses. The truth is that it's a false choice. There are always opportunities for businesses to grow in the current landscape.
Let's take a closer look at how businesses can thrive and keep their customers safe moving forward.
Social distancing is good business
As the nation and world attempt to "keep up" with the coronavirus, businesses find themselves having to adapt quickly. As everyone moves from the first phase of the response to the latest stage in which businesses slowly re-open, social distancing is a necessity to help people stay healthy.
For that reason alone, social distancing is good business. It exposes fewer people to the risk of catching the virus, enabling both customers and staff to remain as safe as possible. That said, there are some realities (and best practices) regarding social distancing that all businesses must wrestle with as foot traffic decreases.
You'll have fewer employees allowed in your office. This means that more employees than ever will be working from home if they can do so and are in a position that doesn't require face-to-face customer contact. It may also mean scheduling fewer employees per shift. You'll likely need to have fewer customers in your store at any one time, and you’ll need to decrease the number of in-person meetings with clients. These best practices may represent challenges, but they're a necessity required to maintain high health standards.
But there's also an upside to taking part in social distancing practices. For one, companies that don't engage in social distancing risk being seen as not caring about the well-being of their employees or customers. It may force some customers away from your store, but being tone-deaf and not participating in social distancing may push all your customers away. While it's true that the implementation of social distancing can have some immediate drawbacks, the long-term risk involved is too great not to do it. As a public health precaution, it will help protect your business from potential legal issues you may face if an outbreak occurs on your premises. Additionally, neglecting to follow state and local guidelines may result in penalties or closure by the government.
Simply put: to not engage in social distancing represents a much greater risk than the business you may lose as a result of social distancing. But how do you manage this new reality not just to stay afloat, but improve?
Boosting business without foot traffic
You have a business that relies on foot traffic, but foot traffic is down compared to last year.
Rather than letting this fact consume and hurt your business, it's critical to adopt a mindset and attitude of extreme flexibility as an organization. After all, your business doesn't exist simply because you offer your customers someplace to visit. You exist because you provide them a solution to a problem. That means that you have to get more creative in how you get that solution from your mind to their hands.
Do you operate a business that serves clients? If so, investing in video conferencing technology for virtual meetings would be a wise decision. This allows you to continue the flow of communication.
Are you a brick-and-mortar store that relies on people coming to your physical location? While curbside pickup and delivery may have been your only means to conduct business earlier this Spring, as things open up, keeping those options in place can assist in implementing social distancing guidelines. You can also shift the focus of your marketing plan toward online purchases and eCommerce meant to target online consumers.
The Costs of Not Adapting
Many of the business casualties from COVID-19 can be traced to a failure to adapt. They were not “digitally prepared” for lowered foot traffic. Many businesses did not have mobile-friendly website or the ability to purchase gift cards (which kept some businesses afloat). Restaurants without online ordering were faced with a glut of phone calls which lead to extra-long wait times for delivery. Some of these businesses survived, but will they next time?
Embrace the new normal
The bottom line is that yes, there will be adverse short-term effects brought on by social distancing. However, shifting to a more agile, consumer-friendly customer engagement model with contact-free options can help improve your business. It makes it easier to connect with your customers, getting your product or service in their hands even easier.
Failure to comply with social distancing regulations may lead to customer dissatisfaction, legal action from disgruntled employees, or state government action. Adapting your business to stay ahead of all regulations doesn't just help you avoid these new realities — it also enables you to provide a superior customer experience.
By embracing the new normal, you're showing both your customers and your employees that your business is more resilient than any pandemic. Building that into your brand will help make you a great place to work and shop — even if your customers and employees may have to do both somewhat differently than they have in the past.