When I wrote about setting post-pandemic store hours back in June, I had no idea that we would not be open on Mondays by the start of the fall season. Last year at this time, at the height of the threat from COVID-19, we were only open 20 hours a week. Now that things are looking somewhat better, it has been hard to hire enough staff to return to being open seven days a week, or any evenings.  I know that we are not alone in facing this dilemma.

How do you determine your store hours?  We could go back to the “Before Times” to see what days and hours we were the busiest, but those statistics may not hold true post-pandemic.  Many factors have changed, including the increase in the number of people working from home, and the decrease in those going out shopping in person. 

Traditionally Monday has been the slowest day of the week for restaurants and possibly also retail shops, but there isn’t much scientific evidence to prove this.  I usually recommend doing a survey to find out what your customers prefer, and if you have to cut back on hours this might be a good way to start. We use SurveyMonkey, and have a paid subscription. (You’re limited to 40 responses in their free version.) A number of other companies, including Typeform and Jotform, offer low-cost or free platforms for surveys.

I know that if I asked our customers today, they would prefer us to be open seven days a week.  Since we can’t do that yet, we’ve chosen Monday as the last day to add back into our schedule. Sunday is a good day for us, and being closed Monday conforms with what some of the other shops and restaurants in our area are doing. We hope to add Monday back in permanently as soon as we can get enough employees.

But if we’re going to be open just a few evenings a week,  we’re not sure what days that would be.  Becky McCray of SmallBizSurvival wrote in 2018, “Setting business hours is a big mess. In our Survey of Rural Challenges, small business owners told us that trying to be open later hours with no success was their number one challenge.” She offers some good advice in her article about factors to take into consideration in setting store hours, and mentions that evening hours are particularly important for busy, time-pressed people. We have found anecdotally that those working remotely seem more comfortable running out to do a daytime errand than back when they’d have to leave to office to do so. There haven’t been as many requests for evening hours as we expected.

An alternative to being open until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening is staying open until 6:00.  If your staff is willing to do this (even though it means getting home at 6:30 or later), you might consider that a good solution. Stores located in areas with many restaurants often do well to staying open until 7:00, even on the weekends.

The staffing crisis may delay our return to evening hours except during the holiday season – which is not such a bad thing here in Wisconsin.  We didn’t see many customers on those cold, snowy evenings in January. Better to be home by the fire with a good book than to be sitting alone in an empty shop.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder