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12 Things You Shouldn’t Do at Reopened Retail Stores

We know you want to get back to your beloved retail stores, but make sure you take the proper precautions and avoid these pitfalls to keep yourself safe.

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Shop safely

COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of the world as we know it. Or, more accurately, knew it. Most everything has gone digital: we work from home, we eat at home, and we most certainly shop from home. But, on the bright side, many restrictions are lifting and people are slowly trying to get back to the “new normal.”

One sector that is starting to open back up is the world of retail. Brick and mortar storefronts are opening up their doors after months of being shuttered. New cleaning measures, safety protocols, and requirements are being enforced all across the country as both businesses and consumers try to maintain safety.

Naturally, some are weary to reenter enclosed retail spaces. Others are raring to go, but not before they make sure to protect themselves as best they can. Regardless of how safe you try to be, you will probably make some of these coronavirus mistakes this summer along the way. The best we can do is be mindful of our habits.

Retailers and businesses are doing everything they can to offset the dangers of enclosed spaces, high-touch areas, and an influx of shoppers and staff. If you’re planning to head back to your favorite stores, make sure you avoid these pitfalls to keep yourself, and everyone around you, safe.

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Rush to your favorite store

Before you even think about walking into a reopened retail store, it’s important to do your research. Look up the store online or call them and ask about their enhanced safety and sanitation measures. Each store will need to adhere to state and local health guidelines, but each brand and store will have different policies. The store will likely be trying to put you at ease, so make sure you understand how they are enforcing these rules to keep you safe.

While stores are doing their best, Dan McCarter, M.D. at ChenMed reminds us that “the highest-risk places are where more than ten people cannot maintain at least six feet of distance…the more closed in and less well-ventilated a place is, the higher the risk is for coronavirus infections.” It is your right to understand the environment you are entering into. Additionally, doing your research beforehand will make sure you have all the necessary items you need to enter (i.e. face masks, gloves, in-range temperature, hand sanitizer, etc.)

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Not wear a mask

Speaking of necessary precautions, wearing a face mask over your nose and mouth is vital to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends wearing a mask whenever social distancing is impossible—such as in an enclosed retail space. While many stores will be mandating fewer shoppers in their store at once, there will likely still be moments where keeping six-feet apart will not be possible. However hot and uncomfortable they may be, they can save lives.

“To help curb the spread of the virus, consumers should wear face masks and of course make sure they are in good health before entering reopened stores,” says Sam Zietz, CEO of GRUBBRR payment technology system for retailers. “One of the best ways to respect store associates is to follow social distancing protocols.” All in all, it is the responsibility of both staff and customers to keep everyone safe and keep stores open.

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Woman shopping protecting herself wearing protective mask

Walk in blind

It’s important to not blindly walk into any retail store. Most stores are putting up signage to explain what additional safety, cleaning, and distancing measures are in place. “Retailers should be transparent about the safety protocols they have put in place,” says Zietz. “Consumers should see retailers making active and overt movements towards more stringent health safety protocols – whether that means setting mask policies, limiting store capacity, one-way aisles, or other safety measures.”

Further, many states require a certain paper, sticker, or marking to denote that they have complied with local and state regulation. The store might also denote the need for a mask or a touch-less temperature screening before entering. It is more important than ever to take the time to read the posted material and make sure you feel comfortable entering the store before it’s too late. Especially if you’re in one of the states where coronavirus is spiking again.

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Touch everything you see

“You may have to learn to shop with your eyes, as continuous touching of clothing or flipping through a clothes rack will be much riskier,” according to Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, General Practitioner, M.D. While you may be used to feeling fabrics or other items for quality, this habit has to be a thing of the past. Often, people touch items absentmindedly or even to compare products, but you won’t be the only one touching the product and sanitizing them in between is all but impossible.

Unless you’re planning to wear gloves and replace them after every item to avoid cross contamination or sanitize your hands after every item—try not to touch. Even if you’re extremely cautious, you could be putting other customers and yourself at risk unknowingly. If you need a reminder of what you’re fighting for, read these accounts of people battling coronavirus and what they wish they could tell you.

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Use the bathroom

If possible, try to avoid using the bathroom in retail stores. The restroom area poses a large risk to consumers and staff alike. Unfortunately, there are multiple high-touch and somewhat unavoidable surfaces in the bathroom to navigate. Consumers pass through the often small and poorly ventilated spaces all day and there is little to no opportunity for proper sanitation between each user.

“You don’t know how often the restrooms are being cleaned and how well they are being cleaned,” notes Diane McCrohan, associate professor in the College of Business at Johnson and Wales University. “Someone could have come in right before you, coughed, and then touched the sink, faucets, flusher, or paper roll.”

In general, there are a few rules that will reduce your risk if it’s unavoidable. Make sure to wash your hands before and after use, use paper towel to open and close doors, and dry your hands thoroughly.

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Head to a popular store at a busy time of day

“Try to avoid stores with high traffic or during high-risk times,” says Julie Ramhold, Consumer Analyst with DealNews.com. “Grocery stores, in addition to big box stores, tend to be busier on the weekends, particularly Sunday afternoons when families are shopping for the upcoming week.” Retail stores will be doing their best to mitigate crowds and encourage curbside pickup and online orders, but the risk remains especially high during times with the most constant customer flow. If you can, try to check Google’s live store traffic indicator or call ahead to plan your shopping time. You definitely don’t want to be a victim of a coronavirus buying frenzy, not again!

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Get too close to other patrons

On that note, social distancing is incredibly important inside reopened retail stores. If you’ve got to shop, make sure you are not crowding other customers or getting too close to staff. A mask serves as a good starting barrier to virus spread, but it is not an either-or situation. Additionally, if you find yourself running into an old acquaintance, make sure to take the conversation elsewhere to allow proper spacing. Social distancing is still one of the best ways to make sure that the respiratory droplets are not passing from person to person.

“If you find yourself too close to another person, it’s best to move away, even if it means you have to circle back to pick up the item you were planning to,” reminds Ramhold. “Not everyone is going to follow the rules, which makes it more important for you to do so.”

It’s tough to change our behaviors, but we’ll need to adhere to some new guidelines to keep everyone safe.

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Use the fitting or dressing room

Many stores have closed off the fitting room entirely while others are allowing single-stall usage. Dressing room spaces are often small or less well ventilated than the rest of the store and are difficult to clean after every usage. The benches, hooks, and door handles are high-touch areas that are difficult to account for.

Further, the clothing or item itself remains a problem: “This isn’t the time to have your own ’90s movie-style shopping montage,” adds Ramhold. “Either skip shopping in person for clothes or at least be smart about it.” Many stores are not allowing try-on or clothing return at all. Others are opting to allow it but leaving the item out to sit for a few days before returning to the rack.

While tempting to try on everything, it’s important to remember that the item could have been touched by many others before you. Allowing items to touch your skin or come into contact with your face, mouth, or nose can spread the virus. As unfathomable as it seemed a few months ago, our everyday habits are changing forever after the coronavirus.

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Shop ’til you drop

While we all love to meander the aisles of home goods, racks of clothing, and piles of other items—now is not the time. Dr. Jeffrey Toll, Internal Medicine Physician M.D., reminds us that time is a factor in transmission and advises: “As much as you can, be decisive while shopping, avoid browsing by picking things up off the shelves and putting them back.”

If possible, have specific items in mind before you enter the store to help limit the time inside. Research indicates that the time spent in small, enclosed areas has an impact on the virility and spread of COVID-19. Some of the enjoyment of a retail space is in finding new wonders or an accidental find, but right now shopping should be still be done minimally. Retail stores need your business, but every moment spent inside does increase your risk.

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Pay in cash or touch items at checkout

While the question of if you should use cash post-COVID-19 is still up in the air, it is always safest to minimize the number of surfaces you come into contact with. The checkout lane is changing forever and it can one of the most dangerous areas of the store. Paying with cash is less safe than other contactless payment options, which have been made easier than ever. Many credit card companies, self-checkouts, mobile apps, and banks have rolled out or amped up touch-less options to keep you safe.

On the flip side, the concern should not just be the person on the other end of the plexiglass divider. Other customers will be checking out and touching the same pen, change jar, keypad, or touchscreen before you. Make sure to bring your own items and mitigate risk by sanitizing soon after checkout. Alarmingly, germs and viruses are everywhere. Still, if you avoid these dirtiest surfaces in these everyday places, you’re at a little better prepared.

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Bring an older or at-risk relative for a shopping spree

“Not only do older people suffer more health consequences from COVID-19, they also have a significantly higher risk to be infected by coronavirus,” reminds Dan McCarter, M.D. at ChenMed. “The best way older adults can protect themselves is to stay home as much as possible, avoiding the retail shopping environment at this time.” Unfortunately, retail shopping does still pose a number of risks for those in the population who are at higher risk. Shopping can be fun, but it is not worth your health. It is still wise to use curbside pickup, order online, or ask a friend to do your shopping for those most at risk.

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Not wipe down your items after leaving the store

Many of us feel that once we breach the barrier of the store doors to the outside world we are home-free. Shoppers rip off their masks and gloves and clutch their haul close to them. This provides a perfect storm of potential problems as many of the items still pose a threat.

“It is easy to forget that the mask was a barrier and it may have particles on it,” warns Dr. Jeffrey Toll. “Have your hand sanitizer ready…to be safe also wipe down your phone, which you likely touched in the store and forgot about.” It is difficult to remember to wipe down every surface and our hands before touching other surfaces, but being mindful can help cut down on risk and viral transmission. If you’re morbidly curious, here’s how filthy your cellphone really is.

If you’re trying to figure out how to stay safe in our current world, make sure you know what not to do at reopened restaurants.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.