Pandexit (n.) The final phase of a pandemic. According an article in The Cap Times by University of Wisconsin professors Malia Jones and Christine Whelan, we are entering “the messy, halting, confusing labyrinth we must navigate to get from where we are to our new normal. Pandexit is the transition period between crisis and the relative stability that we can expect in a post-pandemic reality.”

Retailers already know that for us, the pandexit time is challenging. During the height of the COVID crisis, the rules were simpler – wear masks, stay six feet apart, avoid all unnecessary contact with both customers and employees. Many of us closed our stores entirely, doing curbside pickup or delivery.  When we reopened, it was to a limited number of masked customers at a time.  We put up plexiglass shields at the checkout, and stickers on the floor showing shoppers what direction to walk in and where to wait at a social distance to pay for their purchases.

With a significant percentage of the adult population getting vaccinated in the first half of this year, we find ourselves in the pandexit period without such clear guidelines.  What should retailing look like through the rest of 2021, and possibly beyond?

The CDC is currently recommending that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks and practice social distancing when inside a building with individuals from other households. This means that at least for the time being, your staff and customers should continue wearing masks – and that it’s too early to remove the 6’ distance reminders signs.  The plexiglass barriers at your checkout counter are not as essential as before, but they do provide an extra measure of safety against customers not wearing masks properly.  We’re going to leave ours in place for now.

Outdoor shopping events, especially ones that allow for social distancing, are starting to pop up.  While they are safer than indoor gatherings, the CDC does say that we still need to avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings. So you might want to spread your tent or parking lot sale out over a longer time, and avoid promoting it so heavily that an overwhelming number of shoppers turn up.

While many customers are eager to get out of the house and shop in person again, we are also facing the challenge of those who are apprehensive. Some individuals feel uneasy going out in public after such a long period of isolation. Others have gotten used to the convenience of internet shopping, especially from Amazon.  Maintaining curbside pickup and delivery options will help some of these customers make purchases online from your store.  Others may need gentle reminders of the pleasures of shopping in person, and assurance that your store will continue to prioritize the safety of both customers and staff throughout the pandexit period.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder