The sun is shining, the sky is blue (mostly) and shoppers are returning to our stores. The latest figures on consumer confidence in Canada (1) show a rise from 42.33 points in June to 44.09 in July. The rise sees confidence up from its 2020 low of 35.6 in April, and climbing back to pre-COVID levels in March of 53.03 points.

So, consumers have confidence, but less than before. How can local businesses encourage greater confidence alongside keeping their employees, customers and clients safe?

1) Consistent opening hours

Customers want to be sure that if they come to visit your business that it is actually open when they arrive. If your business has been closed, then opened part-time and now looking to open full time, various opening times have appeared all over your online listings. Be consistent and update every instance of your opening hours on the web, particularly your social media and your Google My Business listing. Also update any flyers, in-store information, and on roadside signs. Conflicting information is confusing, and if customers are not sure what information is correct, they probably won’t risk making the journey to visit you.

2) Welcomes not warnings

It’s a fine balance to help helping customers understand the measures you’ve put in place to keep them safe, and encouraging them to visit and spend as usual. There is a risk of the number of your warnings overwhelming your welcome. So, think how to display safety information clearly and encourage customers to social distance in-store, but without distracting from the enjoyment or purpose of the customer’s visit.

It’s also worth considering the question of face coverings, which have become already mandatory for public indoor spaces in neighbouring health districts (*1*). A custom-made cheerful set of branded face coverings will look so much better than black masks for your staff, and may even prove a hit with customers if you give them away or sell at cost! The hand sanitizer you provide doesn’t have to be plain and dull either; consider a gently scented one made locally that helps the local economy.

3) Open but not busy?

If you’re in retail, chances are footfall will be significantly lower than usual at this time of year. Physical distancing requirements will also reduce your capacity for visitors and customers, which in turn may mean there will be times when you may have no customers onsite. Be patient. Use this ‘down time’ to do something positive – change a window display, walk your store to see how that new one-way system actually works, check out proximity pinch points that could be sorted. If nothing else, tidy and polish something – it’ll make you feel better, and customers like to see activity in-store, even if it just you and your staff!

4) Think beyond the box

You may feel you’ve been doing little else since March, but now really is the time to think about your business and its future shape and direction. Every business owner will have learned valuable lessons from the pandemic, from the flexibility and resilience of their company in the face of adversity, to the popularity of specific products and services. Now is the time to apply those lessons into actions, perhaps streamlining your product lines, adjusting your services to both online and offline models, or retaining kerbside collections to save local customers the cost of delivery. There is another advantage to this, in that the virus has not gone away, and local virus ’hot spots’ may result in local restrictions being reinstated. If that happens, adjusting your business now will ensure it is ready for any ‘second wave’.

5) Network, network, network

We’ve all missed networking, whether in a formal meeting like our own Business After 5, or having those informal chats with customers over the counter. Virtual chats are great, as are phone calls, but it pays to also make time for the occasional ‘real thing’. Set some time aside to visit clients, customers and suppliers, even just for a chat and a takeaway coffee in the car park 2 metres apart, to reduce risk and maintain physical distancing. Maintaining links and relationships with those in your own business network as well as your local community helps you be visible as an active, engaged business owner. That in itself will reinforce consumer confidence.

Help from your local Chamber

As always, as your local Chamber of Commerce, we’re here to help you and all local businesses in the weeks, months and years ahead. If you need help, advice, information or just a chat, call us.

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(*1*) The Middlesex-London Health Unit will make wearing a face covering in an enclosed public space mandatory from midnight on Friday. City councillors are expected to vote on a similar bylaw for London ON on Tuesday evening. Our own Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) are “Actively looking at the best way to go about encouraging our citizens to wear a face covering, including some sort of mandatory direction”, according to Dr. Joyce Lock, the chief medical officer of health. See our post on masks order