Retailers across the country are wondering whether we’re ready to return to normal as the pandemic appears to finally be receding. It’s been a long two years, with hardships for many small businesses that we couldn’t have dreamed of in March, 2020. I’ve been asked more than once if the 4th edition of Specialty Shop Retailing covers pandemics. I’m afraid my crystal ball didn’t see it coming!

The fact that cases of COVID are falling is good news, although the emotional toll of this period of isolation – and the loss of close to a million lives in the US – will not go away soon.   And while we are all hoping for a return to normal, the truth is that we are not returning to the way things were two years ago. Prices have gone up, employees are difficult to find, and shopping habits have changed.

Retailing is of course not the only area impacted. A recent study sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 78% of the population thinks that life will be different going forward.  The COVID virus will continue to be with us, with new variants possibly turning up, so we aren’t looking at a new normal – just the next normal.  We need to continue to be cautious, encouraging vaccinations and boosters, and asking that employees not to come to work sick. Our youngest shoppers are not yet eligible for vaccination, so we need to protect them from exposure, along with our immune-compromised customers.

Here are a few ideas that can help you in this new stage of the pandemic:

  1. Continue to offer curbside pickup or after-hours shopping for those who must avoid exposure.
  2. Offer some paid sick time to encourage employees to stay home when they have flu symptoms. Ask them to take a COVID test to be sure they’re negative before returning to work. Free at-home tests are available to order in the US, so every home should have some. A surprising 46% of these home tests have not yet been claimed!
  3. Support your staff members who decide to wear a mask because they feel safer doing so.
  4. Maintain good cleaning practices, especially for high-touch areas.
  5. Plan ahead for vacations – everyone is going to want to travel this year, so it will take some coordinating to stagger the times your employees will be gone.
  6. Get active in your buy local group (or start one if your community doesn’t have one) in order to encourage a return to in-person shopping.

The pandemic isn’t over just because we want it to be, of course, but it is looking like we may be moving into a welcome new stage of recovery. Let’s hope so!

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder