Covid 19 certainly did interrupt our lives, didn’t it?
Who would have expected such a thing to happen to an unsuspecting public?
Of course, we’ve all heard about the ‘possibility’ of some crazy heretic unleashing a virus on the world.
You know, like they do in movies where the villain wants to kill everybody?
But we really didn’t believe it would happen in our lifetime. Not really!
Just like the San Andreas Fault on the west coast of the USA. The people living there don’t really think it will ‘activate’ and kill millions of people in their lifetime.
Or in their kids or grandkids lifetime.
And we sure hope it doesn’t but…well, you just never know.
Anyway, the point of this article is not to talk about absurd doomsday scenarios – of which there are many – or even tragic events that could very well come to pass.
We want to talk about how this virus has affected our lives – here and now; our lives in retail.
For instance, 9 months after the initial full lockdowns, people are getting subliminal messages like this in places that are now – supposedly – open for business…
No loitering in the mall!
We’ve removed all common area seating to ensure you cannot sit down…you cannot rest. You must just get what you need and get out!
Do you remember when the virus first came out of China and started spreading across the world?
It was almost unbelievable.
No one expected it or knew what to do about it.
But officials knew one thing for sure.
They had to flatten the curve of infections so that health services and systems would not be overwhelmed and unable to effectively deal with the inevitable high number of cases.
We didn’t know how many but we knew there would be a lot.
Nobody knew much. And so it began.
Everybody and their brother, to coin a phrase, started making decisions based on very little information and almost no knowledge.
Naturally some experts did have both and they made some very good decisions and we can all be grateful for those.
How about that run on toilet paper?
Chicken, flour, pasta sauce and canned everything, OK.
Lysol disinfectant wipes, bleach and heavy duty cleansers, OK…
but TP for a respiratory illness?
Well, nobody knew what to expect. Live and learn.
But some decisions were based on nothing more than the whim of power hungry people who decided that they knew best.
Those people followed the “science” that they themselves determined to be the very best “science” under the circumstances.
Well, whose science shall we use? That was the new question of the day.
Retailers and many others are still feeling the sting that those people – those who declared themselves the “all knowing” – inflicted on us all.
We’ll go into detail on that a bit later.
So, after the public made the sacrifices, the curve did, indeed, flatten. Victory.
(A great deal of credit goes to those on the front line. Most people would say a heartfelt “thank you very, very much”, as they should.)
But, no one ever really felt victorious, did they? No, they didn’t.
The curve was flattened and the hospitals were not overwhelmed but still no one felt that the job was done.
Of course, the virus still had to be defeated but how would that be accomplished without ruining everything else in people’s lives?
And why wasn’t everyone asking that question?
Way too many were considering only the virus because they weren’t aware of the bad things that were happening as a result of the response to it.
Talk of the virus overwhelmed everything else, naturally.
Most of us only learned about the undesirable ‘side effects’ as time went on.
Suicides up, alcohol consumption and drug use way up, all kinds of abuse, kids going hungry, lack of preventive medicine for other diseases, children suffering due to isolation and loneliness and the list goes on.
All business but, particularly small business was being lambasted.
Some still are. No one is out of the woods yet.
Face it. Retail is in a terrible state.
Most large retailers will probably weather this storm provided they were in good shape heading into 2020.
Small to medium retailers may not.
A big regional mall that I’ve frequented many times over the years, both as a consumer and a retail professional, has let the virus all but take over.
Normally, this is a fabulous mall.
They’re always updating and really trying to make it a happening place…a welcoming place where people want to SHOP.
Seems it’s a novel concept these days.
Right now, when it would normally be teeming with shoppers, that mall is dark and bare and there are signs everywhere warning you “don’t do this, don’t go there…you are not allowed to do X”.
At the food court, everything is cordoned off and there are more signs “stand here, don’t go any closer”.
It’s honestly overkill. And depressing.
And, just so you know…there are no smiley faces or please and thank you’s.
It’s all very matter of fact.
I don’t know about you, but I live in a free country and when I am ordered not to do something that I previously was free to do, I expect a little courtesy at the very least.
I understand we all have to take precautions and follow the new rules. The seriousness of the virus is not lost on me. Not at all.
When I am hungry and I want to order food, I know that some things are different than they were.
I understand that my choices are limited.
That’s ok. Covid and 2020 and all…
I don’t mind being a few feet from the order taker and not being allowed to use cash to pay for my order. I willingly tap.
I don’t mind masks and plexiglass to protect people from each other even when those things make it incredibly difficult to understand each other but that’s life right now.
I must tell you, though, I am NOT going to be happy to buy my food from a person wearing a hazmat suit – which is what we seem to be heading towards.
Yes, I do realize that is probably an exaggeration.
Come on, people. Enough.
When decisions are being made as to how to keep shoppers safe, they need to also consider how to get people shopping again.
Customers don’t want to feel that their outing is a chore.
And no retailer should want that either.
Suddenly retailers are supposed to just stop thinking about traffic?
Their salespeople are supposed to stop talking to customers?
Heaven forbid someone should try to promote something or actively sell.
It’s now just fine for the only two sales associates on duty to sit behind the cash desk playing on their phones while customers are in the store?
That’s a cop out.
As much as the virus is real and the caution is warranted…we can’t let it be used as an excuse for lousy performance by individuals who are taking advantage.
Oh, and those floor markings…aren’t they cute?
Do little pairs of feet and arrows on the floor really do anything except make people feel bad when another person glares at them over the top of their mask with the clear message “You, Mister, are going the wrong way and I just may have to report you”?
Surely there is a better way.
You’ve got to find it; find the ‘better way’ for your particular stores.
You’ve got to think about these things if you expect people to move away from their now huge dependance on AMAZON and come back to you.
As long as governments allow malls and other retail centres to remain open provided they do it safely, and as your business starts to pick up, try to think back to those days when finance and operations would have healthy battles over how the stores would operate.
The same type of battles need to be had now.
Only this time there are more considerations; more sides to be listened to…
Operations, Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Safety.
You want safe and healthy staff and customers AND you want customers to buy what you are selling.
Lots of it.
Both objectives can be met at the same time.
With masks, sanitizers and a general understanding that you should keep your distance… just get back to work.