Social Distancing Ideas for Business Owners: Creative Ways to Encourage Social Distancing In-Store

women in mask shopping in store

More than a year after the global pandemic began, COVID-19 continues to affect our daily lives. 

Businesses have been forced to adapt and make changes. From complete shutdowns to gradual reopenings, these different stages have come with new sets of challenges. As a result, a lot of stores have introduced curbside pickup and delivery options. Others have introduced online shopping channels for the first time. 

These shifts have allowed customers to avoid storefronts and in-person interactions. But what about shoppers who still want to shop in-stores? 

Businesses with storefronts need to stay open while providing a safe shopping experience. Coming up with social distancing ideas can be tricky. And a lot depends on factors like store layout

But retailers are resourceful, and quickly learned how to encourage in-store social distancing in creative ways.

We've compiled those ideas below—some you may be doing already, and others that may inspire you to try something new!

Ideas for promoting social distancing in your store

We’ve gathered a list of nine social distancing ideas for stores that are open for shoppers during COVID-19. Plus, we’ve included lots of examples of businesses doing social distancing well.

Use outdoor signs and window graphics to inform customers before they walk in the door

Before shopping even begins, retailers can inform customers about their shopping policies. Stores should take a strong stance for shopper safety. This puts customers at ease and shows that the store is prepared. 

Signage and window decals in a storefront give shoppers an idea of what to expect before they get inside.

One sign idea many businesses are using is modifying their logo or branding to include a mask. This can be a lighthearted way to show that wearing masks is required before entering.

Outdoor signs and window decals can also include modified open hours and social distancing requirements.

Offer appointment shopping and limit shopping times

One of the biggest challenges store owners face is limiting the number of people in a store at any given time. To combat unsafe crowd sizes, many stores have implemented shopper limits.

Some bigger stores have employees at the entrance counting customers as they enter. But one way to bypass this altogether is to incorporate appointment shopping. Customers can call or make an appointment online for a dedicated time slot to come and shop.

💡 There are several appointment shopping apps available in the Shopify app store, including:

  • BookThatApp: a calendar app that lets customers access and book times on your business calendar.
  • Tipo: a booking app with an entire system of calendars and management features for customers and staff.
  • Sesami: an appointment booking app for selling appointments that syncs with Google calendar and has other ecommerce features.

Prior to an appointment, stores can leverage social media to prepare shoppers. Social video content is great for sharing the latest inventory and briefing customers on changes to the store layout. This helps them come prepared and know what to expect during their appointment.

Another way to limit the number of shoppers in a space is to cap shopping times to 30 minutes. This is a great option for coffee shops and small restaurants. Not only does this increase table turnover, it keeps customers safe by reducing overcrowding. 

It's OK to post reminders. In-store signs keep social distancing top of mind. This way, customers stay informed and respectful of the guidelines. 

Check temperatures and have sanitization at the door

Temperature checks are more common with businesses where customers remove their masks to receive services, like hair salons, private medical practices, spas, and other businesses in the health and beauty industry. 

Confidence increases when a person has their temperature checked. Plus, these checks give customers a sense of assurance. The hope is that shoppers permitted to enter aren'’ going to infect each other.

Regardless of industry, having sanitization stations at the door is a no-brainer during COVID-19. 

These stations can be approachable and even on-brand for a business. Safety comes first. But branded signage adds a level of personalization that is disarming and engaging.

Adding your brand to “boring” areas like a sanitization station creates community. It communicates to customers that you’re willing to adapt to the current times, that you’re taking ownership of your store’s part in all this, and that you’re helping keep your customers safe. 

Use floor decals to keep customers six feet apart

It’s important that an entire store is modified for safety and social distancing. Stores should take the same level of precaution throughout the store as at the entrance. Floor decals and signs are great ways to do this.

fresh market floor stickers and signage

Image source: The Fresh Market

For stores with checkout lanes, use decals as spots for customers to stand while waiting in line. Create more lanes and checkout areas, then spread them apart for less interaction between customers.

Floor decals are also great spots for store branding. Retailers can get creative and engage customers with humor. Thinking about ways to add brand voice and style to something like a floor decal should be fun.

Aim to make your customers smile beneath their masks. Try to get their attention. After all, they’re waiting in line!

Smaller stores with limited space need to think about reorganizing. This is a chance to reconfigure and create more space for shoppers to browse.

Use floor decal lines and arrows to direct customers into different sections. Get creative with ways to introduce new product groupings and displays.

Stores can even rope off entire areas. By separating into sections, businesses can create socially distanced store layouts. Make it natural, not forced.

Leverage existing communication channels

In addition to integrating new safety measures, stores should utilize existing channels to encourage social distancing in stores. 

If a store already uses digital displays (over 2.5 times more effective than static displays), consider adding a note about COVID-19. Or dedicate an entire display to remind about safety and list social distancing guidelines. 

For larger stores that have overhead paging systems, incorporate a periodic announcement about your store policies and requirements for social distancing. 

Stores that use paper menus and handouts can create digital copies. Replace a physical copy that gets passed between customers with a QR code. Customers can view the information on their smartphones and eliminate germ transfer.

Social media is where stores remind customers that in-store shopping is safe. Sharing masked team photos is always a good idea. Using #wewearmasks and #maskup hashtags show businesses as actively taking COVID-19 precautions.

Email newsletters can be ways to send in-store-only coupons and appointment slots. Text reminders can go out to remind about social distancing guidelines. Now’s the chance to leverage the channels stores already have in place.

Stores that use apps can add more functionality for in-store shoppers. Over 50% of customers say they used an app while shopping in-store before COVID-19.

To keep customers safe, stores can integrate rewards, announcements, and new product launches into their apps. This reduces staff interaction with customers but also creates a multichannel shopping experience. It’s a win-win.

Think about where and how you already communicate with your customers when they’re in your store shopping. Then incorporate relevant COVID-19 social distancing reminders and guidelines into your communications.

Install protective guards at checkout counters

The checkout experience is the closest human interaction during the entire shopping experience. So it’s important for retailers to encourage social distancing at this moment in a sale.

Stores can install protective guards at checkout. Often called “sneeze guards,” these are acrylic or plexiglass shields. They provide protection not only for customers but also for employees. The CDC offers some workplace guidance for using these shields. 

Many commercial space designers and sign companies now offer custom installations. But even the standard shields available on Amazon are better than nothing. 

Stagger checkout counters, if you have more than one 

Acrylic shields help with protection. But stores can take extra measures to encourage social distancing at checkout.

The checkout counter is an area where in-store foot traffic tends to converge. And keeping the appropriate social distance at the point of sale can be tricky.

Something as simple as the age-old crowd-control-posts-and-rope set can help. Think club bouncer or movie theater. These can guide shoppers to the checkout counter without overcrowding or grouping.

Stores with more than two checkout stations or lanes can stagger them. By leaving every other counter open, you're doubling your space between shoppers.

Reducing the number of counters open means more guests may funnel into a single line. But with proper social distancing, there will be less contact between customers and employees.

Provide contactless payment options

Businesses can also reduce the health risk associated with checkout and payments. The best way is to offer contactless payment options. With the Shopify POS, stores can use the Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader to give customers a hands-free checkout experience. 

Shopify's tap & chip card reader
Shopify's Tap & Chip Card Reader that accepts chip and contactless payments.

There are other options too. Stores can get creative with accepting online payments and email invoicing. Even Instagram Shop and Facebook Pay may be good options to offer your shoppers.

Your business may only accept cash and physical cards right now. And if the thought of expanding payment acceptance methods is overwhelming, that’s OK. But COVID-19 is pushing the boundaries of what businesses can and should do to adapt and make their customers feel safe.

Introduce open-air or outdoor shopping experiences

There is a range of comfort levels with in-store shopping during COVID-19. Some shoppers are willing to wear a mask and go inside a store, while others are reluctant to do so. 

One way for businesses to attract in-person shoppers while staying committed to customer safety is to offer open-air or outdoor shopping.

💡 TIP: Offer outdoor shopping with a portable point of sale. Start a free trial of Shopify POS to try it out.

If you’re lucky enough to have a store with sidewalk space, consider setting up tables outside. Wheel product racks and set up furniture outside. Make it open and accessible for customers.

Stores that can’t do outdoor areas every day can have special outdoor events. Host a pop-up market or outdoor class. This may attract customers who aren’t comfortable shopping indoors.

Plus, stores can capitalize on the excitement of a “big event” in a time when they are few and far between. Market on social media, hang fliers, spread the word. As long as it allows for social distancing, customers can enjoy a new way of interacting with your brand.

During COVID-19, some businesses have invested in new infrastructure (like shipping containers!). Dedicated open-air areas can accommodate outdoor dining or shopping during all business hours.

Businesses can safely reopen and stay open 

Staying open for customers takes creativity. But it is possible.

We live in a time when businesses need to attract customers to their physical stores to stay afloat. But it takes extra precautionary measures.

The ideas we’ve given you are a starting point. With a mix of innovation, humor, and creativity, you can create a safe place for customers. Customers can enjoy and trust your brand based on the safety and service you’ve provided them.

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