macy's curbside pickup sign with car parked
As it begins reopening procedures, Macy's will implement more frequent and intense store cleanings, plexiglass barriers at cash registers and social distancing markers. — Macy's

You could call it the great retail re-imagining.

As U.S. retailers reopen their stores, they not only have to address the safety concerns of customers, but rethink every aspect of their businesses and rapidly adjust to a world where more shopping will occur remotely.

“One of the things that I expect is going on behind the scenes at a lot of retailers right now is they’re re-imagining the role of the store and what the store itself is going to look like,” said Krystina Gustafson, vice president of content for retail conference host Shoptalk, at a virtual conference to outline the trajectory of how retail will evolve as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beyond the safety concerns, brands are looking for new ways to connect with their customers that not only keeps them safe, but makes shopping more convenient.

The reopening plans of three major U.S. retailers, Macy’s, Ulta Beauty and Verizon, show how a department store, a high-touch beauty chain, and a telecommunications provider are tackling this challenge.

This is an incredibly challenging situation that requires us to adjust our plans each day.

Jeff Gennette, CEO, Macy's

Macy’s: ‘Obsessing’ over crafting a safe environment

As the country’s largest department store chain reopens, the biggest hurdle, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said, is how to “build confidence that it’s a safe environment for both colleagues and consumers.”

“We’ve been obsessing about that,” Gennette said in a virtual “fireside chat.” Being a non-essential retailer, he said, has given Macy’s the advantage of learning from the best practices of the essential retailers that remained open during the shutdown orders.

Macy’s expects to have the majority of its department stores, as well as its Bloomingdale’s and Blue Mercury stores, open by the end of June. Openings will be staggered based on state and local guidelines and also the ability of each store to generate sales. In some cases, only a portion of a store will open initially for curbside pickup or online order fulfillment, Gennette said.

In addition to more frequent and intense store cleanings, plexiglass barriers at cash registers and social distancing markers, employees will be required to wear company-provided masks and undergo wellness checks as they start their shifts, a Macy’s spokesperson told CO—.

The beauty departments will operate under “no touch” rules, and customers will not be allowed to sample makeup or fragrances. If a customer wants to see what a foundation or lipstick looks like, an employee will apply a sample on a paper face chart using a disposable applicator. Perfume salespeople will no longer spritz you with fragrance, but they can hand you a blotter card with the scent.

Ear piercings, salon services, bra fittings and alterations have been suspended. Customers trying on watches or jewelry will have to apply hand sanitizer first.

Fitting rooms will be open with limited capacity, but customers will no longer be allowed to try on dress shirts.

As it reopens, Macy’s will stay flexible and respond to customer feedback and changes in the course of the pandemic, Gennette said. “This is an incredibly challenging situation that requires us to adjust our plans each day,” he said. “But we are confident that we have a path through this.”

 verizon employee inside store with mask on
Verizon's "Touchless Retail” plan enables customers to schedule appointments for pickups or in-store service and check in with its mobile app when they arrive at the store. — Verizon

Verizon: ‘Touchless Retail’ format debuts

Verizon, deemed an essential service, was allowed to remain open, but opted to close 70% of its approximately 1,600 corporate-owned stores “so that we were doing our part to not promote the spread of COVID-19,” Krista Bourne, senior vice president of sales and operations, told CO—. Verizon used data to target locations where there was high customer need, and kept those stores open.

As Verizon reopens closed stores, it has implemented a “Touchless Retail” plan that enables customers to schedule appointments for store pickups or in-store service, check in with the My Verizon mobile app when they arrive at the store and make purchases without having to touch any paper or screens in the store.

Customers will get a call before their appointment to see if their need can be handled remotely. Customers who do need to come to the store will get an alert from the app telling them when the store employee is ready to serve them, so they can wait in their cars until notified to enter.

Customers will be required to wear a face covering, and those who arrive without a mask will be given one. Store traffic will be limited to one customer per store employee, with no customers waiting inside the store for service, Bourne said.

“We are encouraging them to start their experience online when they can, because it will allow us to know they’re coming, and it will set expectations for them and us on the timing,” she said.

Verizon had the My Verizon app in place long before the COVID-19 crisis and it is working on enhancing the app to allow non-Verizon customers to use it as prospective customers. The pandemic accelerated the development of the app, as it became clear that it was more important for current and new customers to be able to connect remotely and digitally with the stores.

Verizon expects to have close to 60% of its corporate stores open by June, and close to 100% open by the end of July.

The appointment scheduling system and other digital enhancements will stay in place after the current health crisis passes, because they help customers save time, as well as keep them safe, Bourne said. “They’ll serve as a bridge to our future. What we’ve learned through the years is customers value their time more than anything.”

 woman getting her hair done with mask on at ulta salon
As its stores and salons reopen, Ulta Beauty has seen a long-awaited demand from its customers, with some salons being 90% booked within the first week of reopening. — Ulta

Ulta Beauty: Virtual makeup try-ons offer a ‘safe alternative’ to product testers

Customers who return to the reopened Ulta Beauty stores will be asked to use their phones to try on foundation, blush or lipstick.

With the use of shared tester bottles and in-store makeup applications suspended by COVID-19 safety concerns, customers will be directed to the GLAMlab virtual try-on experience in the Ulta Beauty app.

Ulta launched GLAMlab in 2016, and the retailer has been expanding virtual capabilities since then, but it has now become a crucial tool. It not only gives customers “a strong way to discover beauty products they love, but is also a safe, convenient alternative to product testers,” an Ulta spokesperson told CO—.

Customers also will be asked to wear face coverings when they shop, and store occupancy will be limited to allow for social distancing.

Ulta Beauty stores include hair salons that in many states are subject to different reopening rules than its retail stores, so not all salons have reopened at the same time as the stores. Hair services are now available by appointment only.

Ulta also has adopted the other rules that have become standard for reopened retailers — masks and daily health checks for store employees, increased store cleaning and disinfecting, and hand sanitizer dispensers placed throughout the stores.

The specialty beauty chain had opened about 25% of its 1,254 U.S. stores as of May 20, and had begun offering curbside pickup at 840 locations.

As the stores have reopened, the response from customers has been enthusiastic. “Where salons are open, we are seeing pent up demand. In some stores, salons were 90% booked within the first week of reopening,” the Ulta spokesperson said.

And as the retailer has made curbside pickup available at more stores, “we’ve seen some guests order multiple times in one day,” the spokesperson said. “Some guests are even putting up signs in their cars welcoming Ulta Beauty back.”

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