Playbook to Safely Reopen Retail Stores

Everything you need to know in one document with research from regulatory bodies, industry groups, and retailers from around the globe.

As governments around the world start to relax general social distancing rules and guidelines, retail businesses face one of the biggest challenges as they consider reopening stores. Retailers have to plan how their customers can safely browse through items while ensuring their hardworking employees get the best protection possible. Some countries have started implementing different reopening phases with specific guidelines per phase to gradually have the entire economy up and running while encouraging everyone to observe safe physical distancing and sanitization.

This playbook covers some of the best practices and suggested guidelines primarily for standalone retail stores, such as clothing, groceries, and other boutique stores. Our team researched important guidelines from governments, associations and other resources summarizing them into a consolidated document. Rules and guidelines may also vary depending on your geography, situation, and retail type.

In this playbook, you’ll learn about:

  1. Best practices for reopening retail stores
  2. Ensuring social distancing and health safety of both shoppers and staff
  3. Geography-specific guidelines for reopening around the world

Situation During the Outbreak

During the outbreak, most retail stores closed down with only essential stores, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, remaining open for business. Different companies around the globe struggled to think of ways to help their communities while keeping their businesses profitable. As a result, online stores observed much higher traffic than usual, and some retailers started offering curbside pick-ups. To preserve the businesses of these companies, they also diversified product offerings, such as moving from selling clothing to selling masks and other PPE products.

Reopening Overview and Aislelabs’ Solution

Countries are beginning to ease restrictions on retail stores. However, these restrictions will not be lifted all at once. Retailers must have concrete reopening plans for both their employees and customers to ensure maximum safety. Retailers are encouraged to observe and limit their store’s occupancy through managing customers’ behaviour while providing all equipment and materials necessary to keep everyone safe.

The image above shows a snapshot of the approximate suggested percentage capacity of retail stores per region or country. Aislelabs developed a mobile-based occupancy counter to help retailers manage this type of capacity limitations. The Aislelabs platform provides occupancy solutions using WiFi or mobile networks to allow proper monitoring of social distancing and to provide accurate and auditable methods that meet the highest standards.

Table of Contents:

  1. Health and Hygiene
  2. Social Distancing
  3. The World at a Glance

Health and Hygiene

Employee Health Screenings

Retailers should constantly monitor both their staff’s and visitors’ health to spot any suspicious condition and act immediately. If detected, visitors should not be allowed into the facilities and employees should be sent home immediately.

  • Install thermal scanners/cameras or infrared thermometers at entrances, checkouts and other areas, such as fitting rooms.
  • Routine screening, surveys or questions to check both staff and customers for symptoms.
  • Train workers on how to monitor their health and temperature at home.

Promoting Customer Behaviour

Retailers should keep customers aware of the safety measures to follow within their establishment. Properly placed posters, floor decals, and signage will help visitors comply with measures.

  • Place signage in conspicuous locations with high-traffic.
  • Encourage the use of contactless payment (tap-and-go) and contactless delivery methods (curbside and in-store pickups).
  • Remind shoppers and workers to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces or face masks.



All businesses must provide sanitization products to people inside their facilities. Hand sanitizers and wipes should be always available as well as hand washing facilities, whenever possible. Additionally, strict cleaning regimes should be implemented for frequently touched surfaces.

  • Make hand sanitizers always available to shoppers and workers.
  • Install plastic barriers and hand washing facilities within the store.
  • Perform regular cleaning on contact surfaces, such as baskets, door handlers, and card readers.
  • Establish procedures for handling arriving and leaving cargo.
  • Disinfect both employees and customers shoes upon their arrival at the facility


There are some unavoidable interactions that include physical contact with objects and equipment. For these cases, both staff and customers must wear face masks and disposable gloves at all times within the store. Depending on the type of business, other PPE elements are also encouraged.

  • Plan ahead to source PPE and cleaning products.
  • Provide disposable face masks to shoppers if they have none upon their arrival at the store.
  • Make sure your staff wears disposable gloves.
  • Install dedicated receptacles for discarded masks and gloves

Social Distancing

Capacity and Dwell Time

A top priority for retailers in this pandemic situation is ensuring the safety of everyone in their stores and social distancing is a crucial element in this effort. Retailers are asked to maintain a limited number of people within their stores at any given time to protect customers and employees. The number varies from country to country, but it revolves between 25 to 70 percent of capacity.

  • Adjust allowable occupancy and consider regulating customer flow to accommodate social distancing and safety.
  • Control building access and regulate customer movement with consideration of one-way traffic.
  • Shorten customer time in-store by encouraging them to use shopping lists and order ahead of time, if offered.
  • Having a traffic light system at its entrances to let customers know when they can enter the store.

Physical Distancing

Staff and customers are encouraged to maintain a distance of six feet from each other inside the store, which can be supported through helpful in-store signage, announcements, and videos. Stores are advised to consider ways to minimize contact with customers and maintain a safe distance while handling goods and taking payment. Some ways to do so are by installing physical plexiglass barriers between checkouts and creating floor markers to indicate where shoppers should stand while waiting in line to maintain a physical distance.

  • Reconfigure space used for fittings to provide social distancing between customers and protection for customers and employees.
  • Post clear signages throughout the stores, limit customers sitting in stores, and install self-checkout touchscreens or keypads, which are sanitized frequently.
  • Place pre-printed floor decals for customer spacing, implement contactless cash handling, and provide disposable gloves for customers.


Retailers are adapting to the current situation and adopting various methods to educate employees and customers in order to maintain a proper physical distance. They are using clear messaging inside the stores to facilitate compliance with social distancing advice. Retailers should avoid displays that may result in customer gatherings like having important signage printed too small to read at a distance.

  • Make regular audio and video announcements within the store to remind people to maintain social distancing.
  • Retailer associations offer many printable signs on social distancing and reminders for covering faces with masks, etc.
  • Clearly communicate safety actions and procedures to employees and consumers (website, signage, e-mail).
  • Place markings outside the store to assist correct queue spacings.

Plexiglass Sneeze Guards

Several retailers are implementing changes in their stores in order to keep their places less crowded and maintain social distancing. One such way is installing plexiglass partitions to separate customers and store staff.

  • Put up plexiglass barriers at all points of regular interaction to further reduce the risk of infection for all parties involved.
  • Clean the barriers regularly.
  • Install plexiglass sneeze guards at front sales counters and cashiers to provide additional protection for customers and store associates.

The World at a Glance

Although governments and organizations are taking similar actions to address the reopening of businesses, there are specific guidelines that vary from country to country. It is important to know measures your country and key industry players are taking to define the guidelines that best suit your business and comply with government mandates.


Retail restrictions vary across both countries and states. In the US, California’s plan mandates not to use more than 50% capacity at any given time. In New York, phase one of the reopening plan only allows delivery, curbside pick-up, and in-store pick-up services for specific non-essential businesses while essential businesses remain open. The state of Florida has less restrictive measures where restaurants can provide outdoor seating with proper spacing between tables and indoor seating at 25% of normal capacity.

In addition, the US’ National Retail Federation (NRF) has released an Open Doors Checklist that outlines a number of topics that US retailers should consider, including employment, logistics, and health policy. Retailers are encouraged to place signage, such as floor markers located six feet apart from each other, and one-way only entrances and exits. Temperature screening through infrared thermometers or thermal scanners is also encouraged. Regarding health and hygiene, stores should implement cleaning regimes for frequently touched surfaces, encourage the use of face masks, and to ensure hand sanitizers are always available. The NRF also provides a consolidated resource with Covid-19 restrictions by state.

In Canada, although retailers can re-open, it is highly encouraged to provide online ordering, delivery or curbside pick-up. They must control the number of customers entering the premises per period while encouraging patrons to exit the establishment as quickly as possible. Retailers can increase shopping hours to spread out the number of customers at any one time. Businesses must also post signage indicating the maximum number of people allowed in the store and outlining both physical distancing expectations and disinfection practices. Retailers must ensure that stores have floor markings to direct the flow of traffic and reduce line-ups by keeping a higher number of checkouts open. Retailers can also limit the worker schedules by staggering shifts and break times. In addition to face masks and gloves, retailers are encouraged to install physical barriers, such as plexiglass shields for cashiers.

Some provinces in Canada encourage customers to wear non-medical masks while shopping and to avoid using their own containers and reusable shopping bags and boxes. Retailers must provide hand sanitizers (ideally with at least 60% alcohol at various contact points) and a dedicated place for customers to dispose of used sanitizing wipes and PPE at both the entrance and in the parking lot. Retail stores offering clothes must introduce new rules for both fitting rooms and returned items. Fitting rooms are suggested to operate at 50% capacity only while returned items must be cleaned, disinfected, and isolated for 72 hours before they can be displayed in the store again.


As some countries have allowed retailers to open, advising them to take mitigating measures to adhere to strict social distancing and hygiene rules. They must require or encourage people to wear masks and gloves as well as installing hand sanitizer stations around the store and entrances. The British government published guidelines and recommendations on how to maintain proper social distancing both inside and outside the stores. Some retailers, such as IKEA in Germany, have started counting people who come in and out to maintain a certain level of occupancy within the stores. Retailers have been encouraged to manage their customers by defining and limiting the number of customers to follow the six feet distance rule within the stores. It is also encouraged to use contactless payment and to use outside space for queuing whenever possible.

Across the region, it is advisable to ensure the highest standards of safety in terms of customer service while ensuring the welfare of staff. The European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC) encourages the availability of plastic screens or barriers, hand washing facilities, cleaning materials, and protective equipment (such as masks, gloves, and sanitizers) are encouraged. Moreover, in the United Kingdom, reviewing the store layouts and operations were also suggested, including employees working back-to-back rather than face-to-face whenever possible, utilizing a one-way flow system through stores with floor markings and signages, and regular cleaning of contact points and equipment such as baskets and card readers. Staff schedules, including shift patterns, break times, arrival, and departure times must also be managed properly to reduce contact as much as possible.

Middle East

Middle East countries are gradually returning to normal life as they are lifting the lockdown cautiously. Retail stores can open with certain measures on a site’s capacity, parking guidelines, and other safety measures across the Gulf. While retailers are required to maintain proper precautionary measures (such as wearing masks, gloves, temperature check, and sanitization) they are also encouraged to promote smart methods for payments and safe operational and delivery options.

In the UAE, Dubai lifted a strict lockdown of 24 hours and permitted retail stores to operate up to 70% capacity. Retailers can also choose their most preferred operating hours, anytime between 6 am to 10 pm. The government is issuing fines to retailers and customers violating the guidelines. Several other restrictions, including prohibition of elderly individuals and children entering the stores as well as any kind of sales or marketing promotions that might draw extra crowd attention.

The government of Egypt has also announced a “Corona Existence” plan to begin after the Eid holiday and is based on health and hygiene and social distancing measures at all places which the government will assess every 14 days. All retail stores are allowed to operate with fixed closing hours at 5 pm and with a maximum capacity of 50%. Customers are also encouraged to use digital payments and e-services where possible. Other Middle East countries have made similar requirements with strict guidelines on social distancing and health and hygiene.

Many companies are following different methods and protocols to fulfill customer needs maintaining government guidelines. An automobile showroom is opening its stores by appointment and bringing test-drives at the customers’ doorstep. A shoe company introduced contactless delivery and branded sanitation wipes with every shoebox.

Latin America

Several countries across the region have published their plans to reopen businesses while others are currently developing them while the lockdown is still being enforced. Mexico’s plan, which will roll out in June, requires retailers to provide their staff with equipment (face masks and gloves) and implement flow signage inside the stores. Staff will work four business days followed by ten days of confinement, and entry times must be staggered to avoid crowds on public transportation. Similar measures will be taken in Chile, which also requires businesses to identify personnel at high risk, to follow established protocols, and to implement body temperature measurement and visual health check upon personnel arrival.

Colombia’s plan requires retailers to work at 30% of capacity and forbid any recreational activities or crowding within stores. For customers, there must be temperature scanning and shoe disinfection upon their arrival. In Brazil, some businesses are switching efforts towards e-commerce. For instance, retailer Via Varejo SA is helping customers via Whatsapp with their online purchases besides having reopened some of its brick-and-mortar stores. Other countries, such as Peru, are defining their reopening plans with home delivery or pick up at stores allowed at this time.

Asia Pacific

Most countries in the Asia Pacific region are running in their final stage of lockdown and gradually easing restrictions on retailers to reopen. Countries, such as China, Japan, Philippines, India, and Thailand have allowed retailers to reopen their standalone stores and stores in malls with certain restrictions on timing, health and hygiene, and must adhere to social distancing. Retailers need to keep track of customers coming in and out of their stores, to maintain age restrictions (over sixty and under 5 years of age are not allowed), and to place facilities, such as sanitization materials and temperature check at entry points. All retailers are required to implement all necessary safety management measures in order to minimize crowding within their premises and ensure high sanitation and hygiene standards.

Retailers in Thailand have been given a green light to re-open after the 17th of May, provided that they maintain all the hygienic and preventive measures, such as social distancing, temperature check, and wearing masks at all times. Similarly, Singapore is planning to lift the lockdown in three phases starting June 2. The government released Safe Management Measures for retail establishments providing operational guidance for the retails stores, and they must adhere to defined measures, such as contact tracing, safe distancing, and cleanliness.

While governments are releasing guidelines for retailers to reopen, companies such as LOTTO group are ensuring customer’s safety with different measures and educating staff and customers on safety guidelines by installing thermal cameras, sanitization products, and preventive guidelines posters at all entry and exit points.

Australia/New Zealand

Australia announced a three-step plan encompassing several protocols for retailers in preparation to reopen the country’s entire economy. Stage one will allow small gatherings of up to 10 people and allow reopening of retail shops. The second stage will allow larger size gatherings of up to 20 people and more retail openings. Lastly, the third stage, will allow gatherings of up to 100 people. It is advisable for retailers to practice social distancing rules, such as avoiding having more than one person per 4 square metres in stores, increasing sanitization of objects, and using tap-and-go instead of cash for payments. Security guards and other staff should monitor and encourage customer adherence to public health guidelines.

New Zealand moved to Level 2 (reduce) alert system providing Level 2 guidelines to retailers. Retailers are advised to keep groups of customers six feet apart, but they are not required to keep records of customers. Most gatherings are still limited to 10 people and social distancing guidelines are still highly encouraged.

Get in touch with our team:

We hope that this playbook will be useful to your company as you plan for reopening. If you have any suggestions or found updates, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to us at and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.

Playbook for Shopping Malls

Our team also developed a comprehensive playbook to reopen shopping centres to ensure a safe shopping experience for your customers while ensuring the safety of your staff. The playbook summarizes guidelines from various countries with links to document sources.

Aislelabs’ coverage on responses to coronavirus:

Shopping Malls
Brands & Retail
Food & Beverage

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