Grocery store associate wearing a COVID-19 face mask working in a reopened store

COVID-19: How to Safely Reopen Retail Stores

What to Do When Non-Essential Retailers Are Allowed to Reopen in the U.S.

  • By Matthew Ritchie

Non-essential retailers around the world are wondering how and when they can safely reopen their stores. 

Due to the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 crisis, governments continue to struggle with those same questions, and the answers remain unclear to most in the industry.

Thankfully, the National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association recently provided U.S. retailers with a blueprint per CDC guidelines illustrating how retailers can reopen their stores. 

Although the document—“Open for Business – A Blueprint for Shopping Safe”—offers no concrete timeline, retailers should consider the advice provided in their phased-out approach, along with that of local governments and law enforcement, when planning how to reopen retail stores once it’s safe enough to do so.

Here’s what NRF and RILA recommend as a rough outline for opening stores.


How to Safely Reopen Retail Stores in the U.S.

  • Reopen Distribution Centers for E-Commerce

In the first phrase, NRF and the RILA urge states and jurisdictions to allow distribution centers and warehouses to reopen, “as long as social distancing, hygiene and sanitization guidelines recommended by the CDC are followed,” so that the flow of goods can continue while stores remain closed to the public.


  • Offer Contactless Curbside Pickup

Curbside pickup gives retailers enough leeway to continue making sales while still following health and safety guidelines.

Several non-essential retailers—such as Home Depot, Michaels, and Staples—are already offering contactless pickup, which allows some employees to return to work and fulfill online orders for customers willing to make the in-person trek. Stores must remain closed to the public, and social distancing guidelines should be enforced to prevent the risk of infection.


  • Allow In-Home Delivery and Installation

Not every product can be picked up curbside. 

For larger items (such as furniture and appliances) or products that require professional installations, home delivery can (and should) be allowed, as long as employees:

      • Can ensure proper social distancing on site
      • Wear protective face coverings and gloves
      • Disinfect any household surfaces they come in contact with
      • Disinfect any tools or supplies used during home delivery/installation


  • Make Sure Employees Keep Their Distance

Employees must always remain at least six feet apart from one another, whenever practical, even after stores reopen to the public in a limited capacity.

To ensure social distancing at all times, retailers should:

      • Adjust seating in all common areas and break rooms
      • Prohibit gatherings of 10 or more employees while at work
      • Encourage employees to take breaks outside and away from one another
      • Limit interactions between store associates and outside visitors, such as delivery and truck drivers
      • Discourage employees from sharing phones, workstations, handheld devices, two-way radios, and other kinds of company equipment
      • Prohibit handshaking and any unnecessary contact
      • Use software and other technology to limit interactions when onboarding or training employees


  • Ensure Customers Follow Public Health and Physical Distancing Guidelines

As restrictions loosen, local governments will be required to set their own retail store occupancy limits and social distancing policies based on public health and safety requirements.

To keep customers safe, retailers should:

      • Limit store occupancy to less than 50% of its maximum capacity (according to the National Fire Code), or five customers per 1,000 square feet of a store’s total square footage
      • Place signage amongst the store that alerts patrons to the occupancy limits and reminds them of proper physical distancing and safety measures, such as wearing face masks and gloves when shopping
      • Post specialty store hours for at-risk individuals in highly visible locations
      • Mark six feet of space in checkout lines to ensure distance from other customers and cashiers
      • Encourage contactless pay options, when possible


  • Continue with Proper Sanitization and Screening Processes, Even After COVID-19 Restriction Are Lifted

According to NRF and the RILA, even as COVID-19-related operational protocols are removed, and stores start going back to normal, it’s still important to:

    • Require employees to follow proper handwashing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and disposal of tissues after use
    • Encourage employees to stay home if they’re sick, or separate them from others if they become ill throughout the workday
    • Provide proper sanitization materials, such as soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes to all staff and customers who need it
    • Regularly sanitize high traffic areas, such as restrooms, breakrooms, payment terminals, store counters, shopping carts, and baskets in compliance with CDC standards


Ultimately, NRF and the RILA encourage retailers to consult with local governments, health experts, and the CDC to know when to limit restrictions and which health and safety guidelines to follow.

Doing so is easier said than done—executive orders often differ from one governor to the next, making it difficult for both essential and non-essential retailers to know what rules and restrictions are in place.

If you’ve been wondering when will stores reopen across the U.S., well, we’ve been tracking that.

Click here to find out when retailers will be allowed to reopen their stores, state by state.


About the Author

Matthew Ritchie is a content marketing specialist and former arts and culture journalist. He lives in Ottawa, ON. When not researching and writing about the retail industry, he can be found hiking the trails of nearby Gatineau Park or alphabetizing his record collection.