As cases of coronavirus started to quickly rise in early March, we knew it was only a matter of time before the UK went into some form of lockdown, with shops legally obliged to shutter up. To ensure safety across our teams and a smooth transition, we closed our doors earlier than the government mandated date, and began making changes to our operations to continue functioning.
As well as closing our retail outlets and concessions, we closed our head office and divided the headcount into two core teams, each focusing on a core area of the online business. Like many other businesses we took advantage of government support schemes to ensure no job losses – many of our staff have been with the business for over a decade, creating a family atmosphere that really underpins all we do. Protecting jobs was our main focus and the scheme has given us great relief at a tricky time.
Our warehouse team has been supplied with vast amounts of PPE, and we are running on a structured rota that A. minimises the amount of staff in the workplace, and B. reduces the amount of crossover between teams. All warehouses also have clear floor markings and tape to help people stay apart, giving them their own designated area to work in.
As a company which already has a fully functioning online operation, we were well prepared to move our focus fully to the website. We moved all our retail stock to our warehouse, and quarantined any new deliveries to reduce the risk of infection. We’ve been working with many of our logistics partners for a long time, so we ensured that our operations could cope with a rise in demand and orders, and it was an almost seamless transition.
Customer care was at the forefront of our operation, meaning our customer team was there to give customers information and advice about products, delivery, orders and the actions taken during lockdown. We’ve actually found this period to be a good chance for us to educate our offline customers about shopping online, making them feel more comfortable with the whole process even if they would usually be an in-store buyer. Our customer care team has given our new online customers a 1-2-1 shopping experience over the phone, just like they would have received in store.
The government’s announcement that non-essential shops can open from June 15th is something we’d been expecting following the reopening of some schools and nurseries, and is something we’re approaching slowly and cautiously.
Staff and customer safety remains the main priority, but we are keen to retain as much of a good customer experience as we possibly can. From a practical perspective, we will provide hand sanitiser, gloves and face masks at the doors to all customers if they wish to take one, as well as tape on the floor and sneeze guards on tills. To ensure minimal numbers of people in store at any one time, we will be offering one on one private shopping slots, which customers can book online or through our customer service team. For us, this solution allows us to practice social distancing and keep everyone safe, but also gives a positive, tailored customer experience.
Despite the difficulties faced during this unprecedented time, we’ve found so many positives, particularly within the local community. As a business we donated £50,000 worth of trainers to a number of hospitals in Leeds, and there’s been a real sense of people pulling together. Giving back to our local NHS community was a very important decision, as they’ve stood by us over the years. We’re looking forward to reopening as safely as possible, and to seeing our customers enjoying our stores once again.