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Picking up the pieces

Assessing what a number of companies have been doing during the coronavirus crisis and their strategies for business recovery.

by Stuart Morgan

Image © Edwin Hooper/Unsplash

While mass layoffs of staff members – and even permanent closures – have been the sad consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of companies in the footwear supply chain, others have been in a position to work under greatly changed circumstances. This short report briefly highlights how they have adapted and their plans as trade picks up again.

In many cases, a sudden drop in revenue made it essential for brand owners and producers alike to quickly take drastic action in order to remain solvent. This has often involved furloughing manufacturing, store and distribution centre workers, as well as some office employees whose workloads were significantly reduced by several weeks of lockdown. Unsurprisingly, many companies decreased their capital expenditure significantly and reduced expenses across a number of fields.

Due to the reduction in demand for their products, a number of footwear and sporting goods manufacturers quickly turned their skills to making essential personal protective equipment (PPE) – primarily face masks, which were in short supply in many parts of the world. In one company, more than 50 employees – including materials scientists and footwear and apparel designers – are said to have quickly came together in search of solutions, while obeying the demands of social distancing.

Some shoemakers gave their support to the fight against the virus by offering discounts to essential workers such as doctors, nurses, technicians, medical researchers, hospital staff, clinicians, firefighters and police officers – or even giving away shoes. Several brand owners donated tens of thousands of shoes at no cost to medical professionals working at the front line of the coronavirus pandemic and later expanded such relief efforts to include retail employees, delivery drivers, grocery store attendants, food servers, cooks and others who have been significantly affected by the health crisis.

Unlocking the doors

Suppliers with the ability to sell online and make home deliveries were buffered against the effects of COVID-19 on the retail sector to a considerable degree – in fact, the quantity of internet purchases grew dramatically in various countries. By contrast, bricks-and-mortar stores faced several weeks of lockdown and zero income.

When governments announced the tentative reopening of stores, how did retailers react? With thousands of sufferers still dying from the virus around the world, it was obvious that things could not quickly return to pre-coronavirus ways, so various steps were taken to keep employees and shoppers safe.

Even before being allowed to open their doors once again, many companies were offering consumers the chance to ‘click and collect’ – to buy online and then drive to the front of the store where their purchases would be waiting. Retailers’ returns policies have often been extended – in one case up to 100 days.

Now that people are being permitted back inside some stores in certain countries, how has their shopping experience changed? Most (if not all) establishments are being customised to allow for social distancing and contactless payments, in line with local guidelines and health information. It may well become normal for some months to see a reduced level of staffing, with retail employees wearing protective masks and gloves. In addition, protective plexiglass barriers are being installed in many stores at payment desks, decals are being affixed to floors to encourage two metres of social distancing, drinking fountains have been turned off and fitting rooms are often closed ‘until further notice’. Where fitting rooms are actually open, any garments (and shoes) touched by a member of the public but not bought are normally being quarantined for at least 24 hours and often steam cleaned at 71˚C (160˚F). One retailer, although not using steam cleaning, is only returning such products to the store after 72 hours.

Kay Lau/Unsplash

Many members of staff – and even some shoppers – will be required to wear face masks and gloves when in-store

Some retailers are limiting the number of shoppers allowed in-store at any one time. At the time of writing, all consumers to a number of Paris stores are being provided with face masks at the door, which they must wear inside the building. Liberal amounts of anti-bacterial hand gel are being dispensed by staff at the door. In fact, one retailer is insisting that its customers also wear gloves.

A number of companies have reduced their store opening times, as well as introducing a special shopping hour reserved for more senior members of the public, people who have underlying conditions and pregnant women.

Behind the scenes, many employees are required to participate in health and temperature checks prior to beginning their shifts, and breakrooms and offices are being rearranged to allow for social distancing. Cleaning and sanitising procedures are being intensified for high-traffic areas and toilets. Personnel at one company who are shipping products are operating under what is being called ‘squad scheduling’. They have been formed into teams who work together consistently – and will be isolated as a team if one of them gets sick.

The immediate future?

During the pandemic, many customers have opted to make purchases by telephone and e-commerce methods, and business analysts believe that a good proportion of people will continue to shop in this way for some months to come – even when the stores reopen. This may well mean that the return to walk-in retail will be a slow process. Nevertheless, ‘retail therapy’ within a physical store is deemed vital by many consumers and, while things may have to be done differently for some considerable time, these important guests will undoubtedly return.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 7 of the June 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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