First, a sympathetic nod to the state of your industry, which was thrown into disarray by the unprecedented shutdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of you (J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew) already have sought refuge in bankruptcy court from massive hits to the bottom line; others could follow.
As a consumer, I know I’m important to you. Heck, all told, consumer spending is what keeps the U.S. economy humming.
But I have a confession: COVID-19 has made me an anxious shopper. And, I’m sorry to say, you aren’t doing enough to relieve that discomfort.
I’m not alone. A survey in May from First Insight, an analytics firm for brands and retailers, found that while the majority of consumers are ready to return to in-store shopping for apparel, safety concerns linger: for 65 percent of women in trying on clothes in a dressing room, for 78 percent of women in testing beauty products, for 66 percent of women in working with a sales associate.
The percentages for men are a bit lower, but still significant across those activities.
I felt the anxiety first-hand last weekend as I ventured into a department store, not because I longed to be there again but because I need a mother-of-the-bride dress for a fall wedding.
As the big-name stores reopened, they promised to adhere to coronavirus safety protocols: floor markings showing six feet of distancing; face masks for employees; “sneeze guards” at registers.
So I was happy to see a big bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrances to the two stores I visited, and face masks on clerks and customers alike.
But one store’s dressing room was a nightmare, reminiscent of pre-COVID, packed-to-the gills times with tried-on but rejected clothes left behind in cubicles and shoppers banging on doors to find an empty space.
Granted, it was the weekend and I was at one of the few retailers to reopen some of its dressing rooms. But I would have felt better if access had been organized and limited, and spread among several dressing rooms rather than centralized into chaos at one.
And please, retailers, make sure cubicles are sanitized between uses; even outfit individual rooms with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.
I’d also feel safer seeing your cleaning personnel on the sales floor. You promised added attention to high-traffic areas, and observing that vital work being done would raise my comfort level.
I’m not so different from consumers in the First Insight survey, who opined they’d feel safer shopping in stores if hand sanitizer were available (80 percent); if shopper capacity were limited (80 percent); if customers were scanned for fevers (69 percent); if displays were placed farther apart (68 percent).
We know it’s a brave new world out there, and I’m going to need a bit more coaxing to leave my home bubble.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].