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Getting back to business: What retailers can learn from Queensland

Image of Brisbane CBD and South Bank. Brisbane is the capital of QLD and the third largest city in Australia
Image of Brisbane CBD and South Bank. Brisbane is the capital of QLD and the third largest city in Australia

Retailers reopening bricks-and-mortar stores should expect a surge in foot traffic after restrictions are eased and train staff accordingly to enforce social distancing measures.

That is the advice of Tracey Bailey, founder and CEO of Biome, an eco-friendly retail business based in Queensland, where stay home orders eased over the weekend.

Queensland residents are now allowed to leave their homes for some recreational purposes, including shopping for non-essential items, as long as they stay within 50km of their house.

Many businesses that had closed stores due to the decline in foot traffic from the global pandemic reopened their Queensland locations over the weekend, providing a glimpse of what can be expected when restrictions are eased elsewhere in Australia.

“What I was concerned about – and it did play out a bit yesterday – was that Indooroopilly [shopping centre] would become the Bondi Beach of Brisbane,” Bailey told Inside Retail on Monday morning.

“All of a sudden, you have hundreds of people flooding into the same space, and people were not social distancing.”

Bailey rostered on extra staff at her Indooroopilly store to enforce the new capacity of just four customers at one time, given the size of her shop.

She was grateful to be able to offer shifts to her casual staff again – she kept five of her six stores open through the shutdown, but only store managers continued working – but said she should have better prepared them for the ‘new normal’.

“They were not well enough equipped to know all the rules. I should have focused more on training them to talk to customers to wait outside and how to deal with the fact that we’re not taking cash transactions,” she said.

Bailey said she was surprised to see so many major chains – including Nike, Cotton On, Kathmandu and Honey Birdette – reopen their Indooroopilly stores over the weekend, since the Queensland Government had announced the plan to ease restrictions less than a week before.

“They must have been able to get themselves and their teams back in action,” she said.

And while there are still a few challenges, Bailey said she was happy to be getting back to business and said customers have been understanding about the new measures she has put in place.

“I’m so proud of how people have acted in Brisbane. I think all Australians can be proud that we’re in the position we are now because the majority of people have been so mindful and respectful,” she said.

Because Biome sells body care and household items, such as eco-friendly soap, Bailey considered her business to be an “essential” service, which customers were allowed to frequent even during the stay home order. But she said there was no clear definition of what the criteria were.

“There was not a clear directive from a business point of view that you had to close. There was a directive to the consumer that you could only leave home to shop for essential items, but no clear definition of what was essential,” she said.

“I believe it could have been more definitive, but it did seem to sort itself out.”

Bailey has not reopened her store in the Brisbane CBD, the only location she closed during the shutdown due to plummeting foot traffic, as offices closed and people started working from home.

“Until people start returning to work in offices in the city, our customers will be quite low there,” she said.

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