Six Gap brands, Kohl’s and Ulta Beauty will begin to collectively operate more than 1,200 stores as the first phases of their reopening plans begin this week. Although new practices to promote social distancing, cleanliness and sanitation vary somewhat among the chains, customers will notice a dramatic contrast between the pre- and post-COVID-19 in-store experience.
Before the end of May, Gap plans to reopen up to 800 Old Navy, Athleta, Gap, Banana Republic, Janie and Jack and Intermix stores in North America as provincial, state and local authorities begin to ease restrictions on non-essential retailers. The first locations are set to reopen this weekend in Texas, according to a company blog, which did not reveal the number of stores but called it a “small selection.”
“Our whole stance is that we will be ready to reopen as it is safe to do so as dictated by local authorities,” Gap CEO Sonia Syngal told The New York Times. She noted that Texas has “made it easier for retailers to have a more consistent opening plan” by aligning state-level and county-level requirements.
Infection-control measures include temporarily closing fitting rooms and restrooms, quarantining returned merchandise for 24 hours, surrounding checkout areas with plexiglass “health guard” partitions, reminding shoppers about social distancing rules through signage, and positioning hand sanitizer stations at store entrances. Although Gap will not require customers to use face coverings unless the locality has established that rule, store employees will wear “high-quality, reusable face masks.” Additionally, employees will be given a checklist to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms before heading to work.
During the pandemic, Gap also has been fulfilling online orders from approximately 1,000 ship-from-store locations and 75 stores with curbside pickup, and the retailer plans to add more sites.
The company is renegotiating rents and terms with landlords after withholding April payments. “We’re looking thoughtfully at our real estate,” Syngal told the Wall Street Journal, adding that not all brick-and-mortar outlets may reopen. “We’ll be using this as an opportunity to refashion the company for what we want it to look like over the next 50 years,” she said.
Kohl’s Implements Rigorous New Standards
Although Kohl’s kept its stores open longer than its specialty and department store competitors, the chain shuttered its stores as of March 19.
“We are taking an informed, measured approach based on a number of factors to reopen our stores on a phased timeline, with about 25% of our stores open by next week,” said CEO Michelle Gass in a statement.
Kohl’s launched its reopening program on May 4 in Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. On May 11, the retailer will reopen stores in 10 more states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana and Texas, as well as the majority of its stores in Florida and Tennessee.
The retailer laid out a long list of new practices it will use to promote hygiene and social distancing. These include hiring a third-party service to provide extra cleaning of restrooms, entrances and other customer touch points during operating hours; requiring associates to clean their checkout lanes between customer transactions; removing in-aisle fixturing to increase space for social distancing; and adjusting the returns process to minimize contact between the customer and associate, as well as relocating Amazon Returns to a separate location.
All associates must wear masks and gloves while in the store and participate in mandatory wellness and temperature checks before their shifts. Employees found to have elevated temperatures or other common COVID-19 symptoms will be sent home.
Ulta Adds Protections In Salons
In phase one of its store reopening plan, Ulta Beauty will reopen approximately 180 stores in Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
“Our focus has been on howto reopen safely – not just when – throughout our preparation and planning, to ensure we are confident to welcome guests and associates back to Ulta Beauty,” said CEO Mary Dillon in a statement.
Working with governments, health authorities and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), Ulta has developed Shop Safe Standards for all locations. In select stores where hair services will be available by appointment, tighter safety measures will be implemented, such as required face coverings for customers, required gloves and face coverings for associates, staggered stations to support social distancing, increased laundering of capes and aprons, and additional sanitization processes.
To supplement its e-Commerce channel, the retailer is rolling out “limited-contact” curbside pickup service in both reopened and temporarily closed stores.