What Comes Next For Businesses After Covid-19 Shutdowns?

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As states around the country begin to reopen their economies, local businesses are looking anywhere they can for guidance. County health departments are issuing advisories about proper social distancing and sanitation practices, but what about the technology upgrades businesses might need when they reopen after their pandemic shutdowns? How might business contend with changes in optimal inventory levels if shoppers continue to buy in bulk?

In survey after survey, researchers are finding that consumers are returning to local businesses as stay-at-home orders are gradually relaxed. Still, concerns about crowding in businesses and schools cut across all demographics. In its latest survey conducted earlier this month, Engine Insights found that 25% of consumers feel we will continue to need to avoid crowds for longer than six months.

Retailers hoping to open their doors to customers within the next few weeks are clinging to more optimistic survey results, like Engine’s finding that 81% of people have missed shopping for non-essential items during the pandemic.

How can retailers get those 81% of consumers back into their stores?

The answer, says Engine’s vice president of technology practice David Feick, begins with empathy.

“Businesses should be doing everything in their power to see, experience, and imagine life from the perspective of their customers,” Feick says.

The number-one worry among shoppers thinking about entering physical stores right now is social distancing. According to a survey by Fast, an e-commerce payment solution, 63% of shoppers say their biggest concern about shopping in stores is being too close to other people. Forty percent list store cleanliness as a top worry, and 34% are worried about touching credit card terminals.

“The past is no longer a good predictor of the future,” Feick says. “Whether you simply pick up the phone to call your customers or hire an expert to help you field a large survey, we encourage businesses to reach out to their customers directly.”

For stores that are actively making those changes, regular customer updates via email or mobile messaging may be appropriate. Larger retailers with their own mobile apps will have an even easier time doing this, since they can send push notifications letting customers know about the upgrades they’ve implemented to increase shopper safety.

Given the changes that retailers are seeing in consumer buying patterns, it’s likely that point-of-sale systems with inventory management tools will grow in popularity over the coming months.

In Fast’s survey, 77% of people said they’ve stocked up since the start of Covid-19. Reasons for the shift in buying patterns ranged from fear that the store will permanently close (21%) to seeing other shoppers buying large quantities of items (15%). POS systems with integrated inventory tools, like Shopkeep and RetailEdge, may prove even more useful to businesses as consumer buying patterns evolve. Digital tools for publishing product inventory on social media will also be more valuable to retailers as consumers search for products that are sold out online but available in their local stores.

In the meantime, Engine’s Feick says he’ll be keeping a close eye on the percentage of people who expect social distancing measures to be extended, as these sorts of consumer perceptions have a big impact on when retailers and other in-person businesses can expect shoppers to return.

“In the early days of the crisis, people believed this would be relatively short-lived, but it’s clear now that consumers are beginning to mentally prepare themselves for the long haul despite the relaxation of social distancing measures in many states,” Feick says. “Now more than ever, it’s important for businesses to keep their fingers on the pulse of how consumers are experiencing adapting to life in a post-Covid-19 world.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.