How should stores reopen?

Discussion
Temperature checks at a Starbucks location in Chengdu, China - Feb. 2020 - Photo: Getty Images/caoyu36
Apr 21, 2020
Tom Ryan

In a letter to employees, Starbucks’ CEO Kevin Johnson last Thursday said the coffee chain plans to employ a “monitor and adapt” strategy as it reopens stores amid a declining number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In the same manner as the chain has done in China as that nation recovered, Starbucks’ locations in the U.S. “will gradually expand and shift the customer experiences we enable in our stores.” Some will continue as drive-thru only, others may focus on contactless pickup and delivery and others may reopen for “to-go” ordering, he said.

Overall, about half of Starbucks’ locations in the U.S. are currently operating and many are drive-through only, according to CNBC.

But Mr. Johnson added that the decision on when and how to open is “a human one.” As such, the company has set up a dashboard featuring government data on cases and COVID-19 trends to help with decision making at the individual store level by field leaders, which include store managers and district managers. “While dozens of factors help inform the decisions, our field leaders look at four factors: the local status of the public health crisis, guidance from health and government officials, community sentiment and store operational readiness,” wrote Mr. Johnson.

Staff will have to be trained on any updated safety procedures before reopening. In China, Starbucks requires temperature checks for guests and gloves for staff. In the U.S., employees had already been told to wash their hands every 30 minutes and to sanitize heavily-touched areas “ideally every eight minutes, but no more than 30.”

The preparations come amid an increasingly politically-charged debate on when to reduce stay-at-home restrictions on businesses to help the economy. Last Thursday, The White House issued guidelines for businesses to reopen, but left it up to each state’s governor to decide. Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina are already making moves to ease stay-at-home orders within the next two weeks.

Without being able to screen employees and customers for the virus, Americans won’t be “confident enough to return to work, eat at restaurants or shop in retail establishments,” business executives told the president last Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think it is a wise move to have store managers and district managers make the decisions on when and how individual stores and food establishments reopen? What hurdles will businesses face as they explore reopening?

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"Retailers are creating individual, multi-faceted plans without the proper expertise or supplies, yet with accountability (and liability) for outcomes."
"Store and district managers need to base their decisions on data and testing availability, not personal politics."
"I think HR and Legal should be behind ALL of this. They shut us down (wisely) — and they should be the ones behind when and how we open back up."

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36 Comments on "How should stores reopen?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Reopening should be based on health and scientific data. This will inevitably mean a patchwork approach with outlets in some locations opening earlier than in others. Don’t expect reopened stores to return to normal right away. Social distancing measures, policies to protect staff and customers, and other restrictions will likely be in place for some time to come.

The biggest challenge? Making staff and customers feel safe. That will take time and a lot of effort.

FrankKochenash
Guest

Reopening should be based on and in compliance with health care experts and data, but it requires the coordination of several functional disciplines to reopen a store. We should not expect a public health official to declare when a store can reopen. We should expect public health officials to determine the criteria necessary for safe operation of a store and the community health conditions necessary to relax shelter in home orders.

But retailers and brands should hold their operations department responsible to develop or modify practices in their stores to comply with public health requirements. HR needs to provide guidance to employees on working practices. Local managers need to know what procedures to enforce. PR needs to know what data can and should be shared.

All of the above apply to determining when to close a store again and then subsequently reopen it.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

It’s tempting for individual store or district managers to reopen their locations in order to ring the register — and to rehire employees who need the work, of course. But these decisions can’t be made in a vacuum outside of state and local decisionmakers and without the benefit of public health data.

While political pressure is growing to speed the rate of reopenings, any public-facing business needs to tread carefully. It’s not only critical to follow the science, but also to ensure that new protocols are in place after the stores reopen. The downside of “getting it wrong” is a shutdown that could last for months longer.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

What, exactly, is happening here? Am I missing something? Or is Starbucks in fact entrusting potentially life-or-death decisions for customers and employees to the gut instincts of their local store teams? Please, somebody, tell me I am missing something.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

If you are Dave, then I am, too. Makes no sense.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

I too was a little confused why we were even asking this question (not a shot at RW, rather if this is actually a question retailers are asking).

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I like the monitor and adapt strategy that Starbucks will implement.
It will be interesting to see how Starbucks implements the training, the understanding, and the practice of social distancing. Normally there are too many people occupying all the tables and chairs- I would think this would have to be reduced considerably when they reopen the shop. I also think that people will be more vigilant (customers and employees) when someone isn’t social distancing or following cleaning and hygienic standards. I am wondering how my gym will follow social distancing when it opens…

FrankKochenash
Guest

I would only add that, based on the article above, Starbucks should institute national compliance requirements to guide local managers. This can’t be left entirely to local management. I doubt it is. But it is not clear what the fourth criteria really means, “store operational readiness.” That probably means that a store can comply with corporate safety guidelines.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

No one in their right mind would leave the decision to reopen stores to a manager or district manager. This is a decision that needs to be made by doctors and scientists, people who know what it will take to keep us safe, not everyday citizens who are not qualified and cannot possibly see the big picture.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Starbucks and Nike have extensive experience with this from China. I tend to trust their approach. I doubt there are going to be rogue managers opening to try to meet sales quotas. And I’m sure there are others who sign off as well. One of the hurdles will be employees suddenly realizing they are “on the front line” and they may simple not want to return – especially if they are making more on unemployment than the retailer usually pays.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Executives and politicians shouldn’t make declarative statements about what “all” people will do or how they will feel. The reality is that some people will be comfortable and anxious to return to restaurants and other entertainment venues while others won’t — at least not at first. Given the history of inaccuracies in our science which, granted, is driven by the complete lack of knowledge of this particular strain, Starbucks’ approach to reopening is probably as good as any. An overabundance of sanitation and caution coupled with the flexibility to push forward or pull back is a sensible strategy for both health and economic survival.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

In the absence of a comprehensive national plan (at least here in the U.S.), these decisions become yet another “for” or “against” issue. Retailers are creating individual, multi-faceted plans without the proper expertise or supplies, yet with accountability (and liability) for outcomes. In the meantime, a steady flow of protests, backlash, and lawsuits can be expected. I would call Starbucks’ plan one of false empowerment and downright foolhardy at this juncture.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

You’re absolutely correct Carol. Well said!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Well said. No need to add…

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Regionalizing the “OK to open” process makes sense, as long as medical and health guidelines are followed. It’s great if regions that are normalizing sooner than others can open sooner than others. But when a whole state, like Georgia, wants to open while their curve is still ascending, much less not waiting for the 14 consecutive days of descending cases, that’s going to create a high probability of a rebound in cases. Everybody wants to open sooner than later. But if we are learning lessons at the detail level of re-opening execution, let’s also learn the more macro lessons about what happens when re-opening happens too quickly.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

Store managers and franchisees both have motives to reopen as early as is feasible. This may be sooner than is prudent, or even safe. Further, monitoring customers to ensure social distancing and appropriate PPE will be challenging, allowing for fresh outbreaks.

Reopening with guidelines should be coming from qualified authorities – namely the CDC and/or Dr. Fauci, not a local store manager.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Giving store managers and district managers this important decision is dangerous on many levels. Just to discuss two, the first one is obvious. Do these people have the background to make such an important decision? We’re talking about health and safety. The short answer is no.

A distant second reason is if you leave it up to individual locations, you’ll have inconsistency throughout the chain. That’s a credibility and trust killer.

Leadership should make the decision and district mangers and store managers should act appropriately. And let’s hope the leadership is making a good decision based on facts, compliance, and health and safety for their customers and employees.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

I’m reading this as “We (Starbucks) will lead from an overall standpoint, in coordination at national level, and with our ‘green light’ that we are prepared from a supplies/policy/execution standpoint — we will then ultimately put this decision in the hands of field-managers that have the best sense of what’s necessary for their staff’s safety and their community.” A long sentence to skirt around the fact that this is really a top-down decision.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The Store Operations Council’s Reopening Retail Safely document, with input from dozens of store operations leaders and analysts, will be ready next week to help retailers make plans for the future. Clearly, guidance from public health experts should inform the reopening schedule, and stepped up health practices like those listed above are key. The new normal won’t look at all like the old normal until vaccinations are widespread.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Looking forward to reading that Cathy, thanks for posting that it’s coming.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Protecting employees is #1 in my book, but a never-mentioned factor is also demand. And I can testify to that: There are five Starbucks locations in my vicinity. They closed four of them and do drive-thru out of the one left open. There are so many cars lined up outside that solo store that the line extends about a half mile in either direction down both sides of the street, causing traffic headaches and super frustrated customers, hence negative PR. To me, the demand element is so obvious (as I’m sure it is to their employees), they absolutely need to think about opening more drive-thrus. Undoubtedly they’ve learned enough about keeping everyone safe after six weeks, right?

On the humorous side, after witnessing the lines, I had to wonder if coffee is an “essential” product at a time like this. It is for me!

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Until we learn more about the spread of the virus, how to prevent it, and develop a full understanding of who has had the virus, could we begin to fully grasp returning to our “new normal”? While we all hope and wish for a return to the way things were, it’s high time to follow the advice from the government health professionals and scientists.

There is a safety issue at play here for not only consumers, but also the critical front line essential store associates. In addition, we should expect a more socially conscious consumer, that will remain loyal to brands based on how they protect their store associates and how safe the stores are. It will all come down to trust and transparency all around the post-COVID-19 policies and procedures.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

I’m working with a team on a “from the trenches POV” of this topic right now, and some really great points have emerged. #1 is that perception IS reality right now, and when facts are murky, even the smallest precautions can make a difference. We’re certainly experiencing a lot of excitement around solutions like contactless fever screening, hand sanitizer stations, automatic occupancy sensors and more. Regardless, I think HR and Legal should be behind ALL of this. They shut us down (wisely) — and they should be the ones behind when and how we open back up, with processes and precautions firmly in place.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Stores can open. What happens next is unknown. Will individual shoppers be able to overcome emotions, feelings of fear, potential health safety risks, unknown COVID-19 facts; can they have confidence in science that is anecdotal due to lack of testing, and the local government directives based on it, just to go shopping at the mall? Maybe.

Are retailers willing to risk the investment of staffing stores, replenishing merchandise, and absorbing overhead costs to serve possibly only a small handful of customers? Will store associates be willing to work the front line under the fear of unknown personal health consequences, which could affect their short-term livelihood and the health of their families? Maybe.

The question of when to reopen is risky business for retailers. I wish all retailers the best.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Field and store management should have input, however the decision to reopen should lie exclusively in the hands of the most senior leadership. As I have stated in previous days’ comments here, I believe this is not a black-and-white, nor a one-size-fits-all situation. Reopening a high-volume store in Manhattan should be approached quite differently than a small boutique in Wyoming. My suggestions include, 1.) Define maximum allowable customer traffic at all times, e.g., one shopper per 100 square feet, 2.) For restaurants, leave every other table/booth unoccupied and/or set up Shoji screens, 3.) Reinforce safety and sanitation practices (I did this in the 1980s. We may have slacked a bit in recent years)., 4.) Provide masks for shoppers., 5.) Post signing articulating how apparel may be tried on, how it will be sterilized prior to returning it to the sales floor., etc.

Bottom-line: use common sense and we’ll all be fine in due time.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
This is an information issue. Store and district managers who are well informed about local conditions, understand local government policy and have a pulse with local healthcare leaders will be able to make good decisions on opening stores and set basic policies that are safe. Unfortunately, most parts of the US are challenged to have the right information readily available. Accurate public testing is still not widespread, and health care workers still don’t understand how to identify asymptomatic consumers and staff who can pass on Covid-19 in the store. The risks are high as it involves human life and the managers have to be not only up to date, but also have a complete understanding of the risks to put the right precautions in place. Even the smallest mistakes will translate into escalation of the disease and death. Clean stores are a must, and that means bringing in more workers more frequently to maintain facilities, increasing risk further. Tracking not only employees but also full trust in suppliers, transport workers, and the rest of the… Read more »
Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Stores that do want to open should be thinking BOPIS and delivery first, before letting customers into their store in so much uncertainty. BOPIS can be a lifesaver for certain retailers.

Scott Norris
Guest

We’ve all seen the pictures of Jacksonville Beach when DeSantis opened them up. I may trust the processes and training that Starbucks will implement, but I absolutely do not trust the self-entitled yahoo who wants to come in for an hour and spread germs around in an enclosed space, re-contaminating the work area and potentially even the product that I would pick up at the drive-through.

Neil Schwartz
Guest

I don’t have to quote all the numbers coming from everyone about how the retail environment is about to change. I do have one question though. Once apparel or even footwear retailers re-open their doors, how will trying on shoes and clothing be handled? Shoes have socks or some stores require the thin peds, so if there is a way to enforce, then I see that maybe working.

But Apparel is another story. How will that be handled? Personally, I have no idea how I would ever buy any apparel from a B&M store knowing that the person that may or may not have tried on a pair of pants or shirt may or may not have been tested or even cared.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Until everyone who wants or needs to get tested can be tested, it’s irresponsible to open non essential stores and cafes. Store and district managers need to base their decisions on data and testing availability, not personal politics.

On a micro scale, I’m unconvinced that individual branch managers can be trusted to do so. Because of this, corporate executives need to work with stores to determine the most responsible approaches based on data.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

Without reasonable “sample sizes” of local population health data here in the US (which does not exist due to woefully inadequate testing), it is a bit perplexing that Starbucks expects local teams to make “informed” decisions based upon “government data.”

Yes, they have experiences from their Chinese sites that may indeed give them an edge on sanitation, employee training and practices, but inadequate local health testing (read: data and insights) here in the US by comparison to China and South Korea incorporates added risks. I am sure Starbucks will proceed with caution, as they must.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

First, no store should be opening common areas for people to meet until we have a consolidated, focused testing and positive ID and recording system in place.

Second, there should be common, agreed-upon standards, that are communicated on how positive IDs are handled, and how are consumers allowed entrance into a store.

Finally, these systems need to be common to states and at federal levels to protect the integrity of the system and the process that is in place.

Anything less than this exposes both customers, retailers and first responders to unnecessary risk and exposure where this should never be happening.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The poll question is confusing, as the second two criteria are clearly subordinate to the first two; and that plays into the discussion questions as well: the answer as to “how” to reopen is “carefully … very carefully.” (I don’t want to even think about potential liability issues.)

Unfortunately, store managers — however good they may be at being a store manager — are likely ill-equipped to navigate the health, safety and legal issues involved. Their input should be sought — indeed it’s essential — but the decision has to come from the top. For small chains and independents, of course, the manager and “the top” may actually be the same person.

LAURA RAMIREZ
Guest

Apparently nobody is studying the rich data associated with the 1918 Pandemic because, if they were, the lifting of restrictions would not be both happening and being seriously considered at this time. We never learn from history, apparently.

It should also be noted: Singapore now has the most reported cases in Southeast Asia after a flare-up among foreign workers. Singapore had been praised around the world for its initial response.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

While retailers should gather inputs from local field leaders, ultimately the plan to reopen (and in what capacity) should be based upon local/federal guidelines along with the guidance from the retailer’s health, HR, legal, and retail operations teams. A consistent approach across the fleet of stores to safety, customer service and compliance is paramount.

In additions, some decisions will not be solely be left to retailers. For example, NYC and LA are already enforcing the use of face coverings in public when shopping. Other local mandates may follow. It’s possible that occupancy load and capacity might also be restricted by governing bodies as shelter-in-place restrictions are eased.

We are also starting to see some industry leaders begin to share their strategy.
For example, Kroger has just released their Blueprint for Business here:
https://www.thekrogerco.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Krogers-Blueprint-for-Businesses.pdf

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

No, store and district managers should not make executive decisions for re-opening. Having different reopening policies per store location will be confusing for consumers.

Reopening will incur losses: if 30 percent of customers are able to purchase, you will still have a 70 percent income loss. Couple your operational costs with social distancing measures and consumer spending trends (which I anticipate will be low due to the coming economic crisis) and retailers will have to ask: does it make sense to open now?

Another thing retailers rarely talk about is the second wave of COVID-19. This needs to be taken into account when strategizing reopening.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers are creating individual, multi-faceted plans without the proper expertise or supplies, yet with accountability (and liability) for outcomes."
"Store and district managers need to base their decisions on data and testing availability, not personal politics."
"I think HR and Legal should be behind ALL of this. They shut us down (wisely) — and they should be the ones behind when and how we open back up."

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