Grocery store employee wearing a face covering counting inventory with a tablet

How COVID-19 is Changing Internal Retail Communication Strategies

Employees Need Up-to-date Information, Support from Management, and Clear Instructions to Stay Safe and Engaged

  • By Sarah Murphy

COVID-19 has changed the workplace indefinitely—especially in retail—and the end is not yet in sight. No one company or manager has all of the answers as to how or when (or even if) things will return to normal. But making adjustments to your company’s retail communication strategy is vital to surviving in this new reality.

In a time of such uncertainty, all team members—from store associates to field reps—need to remain in the know with accurate, reliable information to be comfortable at work and provide a safe customer experience. And having a strong retail communication strategy in place ensures that head offices, managers, and associates are all on the same page.

According to BDO Global, the main objectives of a communication plan are to:

  • Inform
  • Reassure
  • Direct

Here are some of the ways that COVID-19 has affected internal communications in the retail sphere, and tips to help retailers adapt, so that your employees have access to up-to-date information, feel supported at work, and can follow clear instructions.

How to Make Your Retail Communication Strategy COVID-19-Proof


Information Is Evolving Rapidly, and Employees Need to Stay Up-to-Date

We may be used to building upon previous knowledge, but a day-to-day retail communication strategy can prove effective when information about the coronavirus is changing so quickly. 

Briefing employees each week (or even each day) ensures they have the most up-to-date information about everything from how the virus can spread and how many new cases have developed locally, to evolving bylaws about face coverings and physical distancing in-store.

As new information emerges, additional rules and tasks get implemented in retail spaces, such as increased sanitization procedures, handwashing guidelines, and physical distancing measures. Providing resources and explaining why these rules are in effect empowers store associates to be in charge of their health and safety, while also maintaining safe conditions for their coworkers and customers.

An internal communication platform like Foko Retail is a great way to ensure your employees have access to relevant information, but more on that later.


Preventative Measures and Messages Aren’t Just for Customers

Retailers have been quick to assure customers that they’re open for business and taking precautions to make the experience safe. But the employees delivering that customer experience also need to be reassured and supported.

“How leaders behave during critical moments leaves a lasting mark on corporate culture. While panic and overreaction is not helpful, neither is complacency nor giving the impression that leaders are downplaying the situation,” says business consulting firm Deloitte. “Proactivity, consistency in message, and modeling behaviors as the situation evolves is paramount. In a period of unknowns and a vague timeline, your people are looking to you for direction and confidence.”

It’s also important that communication remains two-way; it’s one thing for a CEO to sit in a boardroom and decide what measures stores need to take during COVID-19, but associates on the sales floor will also have valuable feedback about what is making them feel safe or unsafe as they interact with customers and products that might be handled by many different people on a daily basis.


Make COVID-19 Personal w/ Your Retail Communication Strategy

As Foko Retail CEO Marc Gingras wrote in Retail Info Systems, to make internal communications stick, make the focus of your messages people at the store level and how any updates affect them.”

How will implementing—or not implementing—specific procedures and safety measures personally affect your store associates? They see the ravages of coronavirus outbreaks in other parts of the world via the news, but when their own health is at risk, employees may get a better grasp of the severity of the situation and commit to protecting themselves and others by following rules and guidelines.

Remind your employees that they provide valuable services to the public in this strange time. Taking personal pride in helping customers get products they need is a great way for workers to stay engaged, even at a time of heightened risk.

Of course, for some employees, COVID-19 may already be personal. Acknowledge that employees are scared and anxious about many big issues—like getting sick or making others sick, the stability of their job, increased financial burdens or decreased access to child care and elderly care for family members. 

Communicate to your staff what support measures your company has in place to help them with their mental health, finances, and caregiving responsibilities during this difficult time, or provide resources they can use to secure outside assistance.


Embrace the Unknown

It may seem cliché to say, “we’re all in this together,” but we are really.

No one can say for sure what the future holds, be it additional waves of illness and ensuing shutdowns, or a resilient recovery. What we do know for sure is that we don’t know.

Transparency is always the best policy when crafting and following through on your retail communication strategies, so admitting that there are uncertainties is okay. 

For example, you may not be able to guarantee that stores will remain open for the foreseeable future if another outbreak occurs in your region, but you can guarantee that employee safety is a top priority by ensuring that PPE supplies like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer will be available to your store associates for as long as they’re on the floor.

There’s no need to stoke panic or spread misinformation, of course. But making as many proactive moves as possible to brace for whatever the future holds strikes a balance between the confident and realistic leader that employees need.


Are you looking to improve your retail communication strategy? Click here to speak with someone about how Foko Retail has helped retailers stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.