Let’s face it: We live in a different world than we did in January. Many countries, states, and cities have lifted their stay-at-home restrictions, but plenty of consumers are still forgoing pre-pandemic activities. Stores have reopened to a growing trickle of shoppers, but this clearly won’t be an overnight fix.

Expectations for what a business should provide have changed, especially for the 50% of consumers who plan to leave their homes for nonessentials. New top-ticket concerns include a major emphasis on cleanliness and safety. And as more consumers decide to leave their homes and start shopping again, they will flock to those businesses that demonstrate a commitment to keeping customers healthy.

Although no two customers will have the same mindset during this transition, everyone will appreciate your efforts to ensure your locations are as safe and sanitary as possible. But what does the safest environment look like? And how do you create this atmosphere for your customers?

The New Abnormal

COVID-19 has led to some significant changes in consumer behavior, and business operations must pivot to stay relevant and competitive. Something that might have been a minor customer annoyance in the past — such as a store restroom running out of paper towels or soap — could be a deal breaker in today’s environment. If your equipment is broken or your trash isn’t emptied regularly, your once-loyal customers might not come back.

Just recently, I was in a hotel with nearly all of its amenities shut down. The restaurant, fitness center, seating areas, and fresh coffee station were all nonexistent. This made sense based on current government restrictions, but hotel staff still struggled to keep restrooms stocked and trash emptied in the lobby. It was a shame — instead of losing customers due to price or product availability, businesses could lose out due to simple, foreseeable cleanliness concerns.

This is an area where big-box retailers are taking the right steps: Since the start of May, many brick-and-mortar locations have reopened with rigorous sanitation procedures, temperature checks, and plexiglass dividers at registers to keep customers and workers separated.

What strategies from the retail world can cross over into other industries? How should B2C companies design their physical spaces to help customers feel more comfortable? Here are a few steps toward safe and welcoming customer interactions:

1. Leverage your website or mobile app. Your website is a tool, both in customers’ homes and in your store. Although some company websites fail to acknowledge COVID-19 whatsoever, you can use your website to outline your COVID-19 plan and facilitate a contactless environment that keeps your customers and staff members safe.

Restaurants, for example, have done a great job of providing contactless ordering through QR code engagements: Scan the code on your phone, and the menu immediately appears. This eliminates a possible source for spreading viruses and proves to your customers that you’re prioritizing their well-being.

Mobile apps and microsites take this principle even further. Imagine golf courses offering downloadable scorecards, eliminating paper cards and pencils, and allowing guests to order food from the clubhouse via an app. Any opportunity to use technology and maintain distancing measures will signal your commitment to public health and customer satisfaction.

2. Provide curbside services. Online orders with brick-and-mortar pickup are on the rise. Adobe Analytics found that these curbside services grew a whopping 208% in the first few weeks of April compared to the same period in 2019. This has become an essential part of B2C service offerings that your business cannot afford to ignore.

Implementing curbside service is simple for companies in any industry. Dry cleaners, for example, are offering curbside pickup and free home delivery. Even the Dallas Public Library is providing to-go service for customers requesting books and DVDs.

3. Keep the customer experience consistent across locations. Do you have locations in multiple states? If so, take the most restrictive guidelines and apply them across your chain. You can scale these efforts back as restrictions are lifted, and this will ensure your stores operate and feel the same no matter which location customers visit.

We’re living in a time of considerable uncertainty and upheaval, so any sense of consistency can provide significant peace of mind for your customers. If customers shop at two of your stores and encounter different checkout processes, they will be confused and frustrated. But if you have a solid plan that is clearly enforced at all locations, your customers will feel more at ease.

Safety is on everyone’s minds. If your business can offer even the smallest sense of security for your customers, you’ll earn greater loyalty than any quality product or service could provide. You might even emerge on the other side of this pandemic with better operations than ever.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, buy online, pick up in-store strategies will be a central component of brick-and-mortar retailer — and a key to continued success. To learn more and to measure your preparedness for the future, check out my company’s comprehensive guide on BOPIS.