Hand washing has been elevated to heroic status as we try to limit the spread of COVID-19 – and as our stores reopen, it is clear that frequent hand washing and other cleaning protocols are essential in keeping our employees safe as well as our customers.  The ideas below are based on what we know today, however I realize that this may change as our knowledge of the virus expands.

All stores are now expected to provide hand sanitizer.  According to the CDC, this alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) should contain at least 60% alcohol (60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol).   You should provide dispensers at your entry point where customers can use it, and at the cash registers and other work stations for your employees.   Remind your staff that although alcohol has been shown to kill the coronavirus, they will still need to wash their hands frequently, as ABHR is not as effective as washing with soap. 

Your regular cleaning routine for the store now needs to include wiping down all surfaces that are high-touch surfaces: door handles, cash registers, keyboards, light switches, telephones, calculators, counters and credit card machines. In the bathroom, toilets, faucets and sinks should be cleaned frequently. The CDC recommends that you wash surfaces with soap and water, and then use a disinfectant.  The list of CDC approved disinfectants can be found here.

Shopping carts and baskets need to be cleaned between uses.  We’re going to give ours a thorough washing before allowing customers back in the store, and then wipe them between shoppers.  I hope that we can get more disinfectant wipes, which are still in short supply, as this is the easiest way to handle this task.

We’ve contacted our credit card processor to eliminate the need to use electronic signature pads.  Our customers already rarely use cash or checks, but we anticipate a reduced rate of cash payments as we reopen the store.  It is generally thought that the risk of banknotes spreading the virus is small, so we’ll continue to accept cash. To refuse to do so would discriminate against customers who for some reason are not able to obtain a credit/debit card.

Many retailers have questions about handling returns.  Chains such as Macy’s, Gap and Express are quarantining returned clothing for 24-72 hours.  Others are instituting a “you buy it, you keep it” policy on certain items.  According to WebMD, “So far, evidence suggests that it’s harder to catch the virus from a soft surface (such as fabric) than it is from frequently touched hard surfaces like elevator buttons or door handles.”  But the idea of holding returns for a certain amount of time may be reassuring to your customers.

Sanitizing products in the store may require some experimentation. WorldFinds recently sent out a helpful email to its retailers saying that they are investigated how best to clean their jewelry and other Fair Trade products without damaging them.  For metal jewelry, for example, they recommend wiping it down with a cloth, and then going over the findings with a mild disinfectant. Many products can safely be wiped down with an alcohol-based wipe or sprayed with a disinfectant – but it’s best to test one piece first.   Keep in mind that limiting the number of display pieces that can be handled by customers will decrease the need to clean your merchandise. 

There has been a lot of interest in the use of germicidal UV (ultraviolet) lights in stores to protect against COVID-19. Business Insider recently announced that Amazon has built a UV-light-emitting robot designed to kill the novel coronavirus in Whole Foods stores and warehouses. They point out that researchers at Columbia University are testing the effectiveness of a certain type of UV light — called far-UVC light — against the novel coronavirus.  The fact that a UV wand is not very expensive makes this technology tempting, but its effectiveness against COVID-19 hasn’t necessarily been proven yet.

It’s important to communicate with your customers, and your staff, that you are taking every measure possible to assure their safety.  Be open to any input they may have for you, and continue to follow reports of new developments in case some additional precaution proves worthwhile.

Happy Retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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