Retailers! It’s time to start thinking about securing PPE for your stores. To avoid ending up with low-quality, ineffective equipment it’s crucial that you work in partnership with designers to develop robust, purpose-driven solution. Don’t know where to start? Carry on reading to discover our top 5 things to consider…

The issue of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is trending just about everywhere right now. All across the world, people are acutely aware of the desperate need for ways of preventing the spread of viruses between individuals as they try to go about their daily lives as safely as possible.

By now, we’re all familiar with some of the solutions that have already been installed…especially those that are in places such as supermarkets, off licences, petrol stations and DIY stores. It’s quickly become the norm to see queues of people waiting 2 metres from one another outside of shops and we now expect that there’ll be sneeze screens separating customers from store colleagues at check-out areas!

But, many of these solutions aren’t really solutions at all. They’re the result of knee-jerk responses to problems that sprung up (quite literally) overnight and are temporary sticking plasters rather than long-term fixes.

Now, whilst this approach may well have been appropriate at the onset of the current Coronavirus crisis, it’s time for retailers of all shapes and sizes to think about the steps they can take to future-proof their PPE so that it remains safe AND effective for the duration of social distancing (which is likely to remain a feature of all of our lives until well into 2021).

What should retailers be thinking about, though, in anticipation of a greater number of stores being allowed to reopen in the coming weeks?

Here at Unibox, we’ve used the insights our team has gained after supplying PPE to a number of supermarkets, banks, NHS facilities and pet supply stores to drill down into the most important things to consider when choosing appropriate PPE for retail environments.

In no particular order, here are the top 5 things you should be thinking about…

1. Purpose

The question you need to be asking is “…what is this protective equipment actually needed for?”. For example, is it required to help manage queues of customers? Is it needed to protect staff members working at checkouts or other service counters within a store? Do you need it to establish a safe environment on the shop-floor or will it be used to protect employees working in warehouses and distribution centres?

These are all important questions, the answers to which will help guide the design of PPE solutions so that they are as suitable as possible for your retail space. By specifying the purpose of a given piece of protective equipment, it quickly becomes clear whether or not there is a requirement for it to offer additional functions. These functions could be anything from small cut-outs to facilitate payments and wheels to enhance portability through to integrated clip frames for displaying messages to customers!

  • Key consideration: DON’T assume a “one size fits all” solution will suffice. Think about where it will be used and what features could be included to make it more effective.

2. Stability

The relative stability of PPE depends greatly on where it will be used. For example, if it is needed to effectively manage queues of shoppers outside the entrance of a store, it will need to be robust enough to withstand changing weather conditions and maintain control over large volumes of people. In this scenario, a solution which includes solid steel bases would be much more suitable than a flimsier, plastic alternative.

  • Key consideration: think carefully about specifying the right materials and manufacturing methods so that equipment is able to withstand high levels of usage.

3. Longevity

As much as we all hate to be the case, social distancing is going to be a feature of our daily lives for quite some time. Even as lockdown measures are relaxed and retailers are allowed to reopen for business, strict rules surrounding how we’re allowed to interact in public spaces will remain in force…just take the strategies adopted by Spain, Austria and Germany as examples.

It is almost certain, then, that PPE will continue to be instrumental in enabling the day-to-day operations of shops, regardless of whether it’s a supermarket, department store, garden centre or otherwise. But, what does this mean in practice for retail store planners and customer experience specialists?

It means that PPE of all types must be designed and built as a long-term solution rather than a quick-fix. For example, careful thought must be given to the needs it will be required to meet (which may evolve over time as social distancing rules change alongside infection rates) and to the qualities of the materials from which it is manufactured (some plastics, for example, are decidedly more hard-wearing than others).

By taking expert advice on how best to develop PPE that will be both safe and effective for extended periods, retailers can feel confident that they are making a worthwhile, future-proof investment that will safeguard the continuity of their businesses.

  • Key consideration: retailers will be relying on PPE for a long time so work with suppliers to make sure your equipment is built to last.

4. Storage

It would perhaps be naïve to assume that the successful flattening of the current COVID-19 outbreak will be the last we see of the virus. Rather, it is highly likely that subsequent outbreaks will occur in the future, as is the case with illnesses such as seasonal flu.

Now, medical experts predict that these outbreaks will be considerably less widespread than the one we’re battling at present. But, this doesn’t mean that social distancing measures won’t be temporarily reintroduced in an effort to stop the virus spreading.

For retailers, then, surely the most proactive plans is to have an adequate stock of PPE in storage ready for when this happens? By doing this, shops will be fully-prepared to continue operating safely.

Several factors are key when it comes to optimising the storability of PPE. Firstly, is it manufactured in a way which makes it easy to fold down and pack away into a small area? Also, how easily can it be disassembled and reassembled…has it been designed to guarantee that minimal tooling is needed for these processes?

Taking the time now to work alongside designers and answer questions such as these will prevent logistical problems from occurring further down the line!

  • Key consideration: think about choosing flat-pack solutions that are easy to disassemble and reassemble as it will save you time, money AND space.

5. Aesthetics

Some people may ask “…do we need to think about aesthetics when it comes to PPE? Isn’t safety the main priority?”.

Well, it is true that safety is the biggest concern, but it’s also true that the visual appearance of PPE contributes greatly to its ability to achieve this. Why is this the case? According to industry analysts and psychologists, our shopping habits aren’t going to return to a pre-pandemic state of normality when stores are allowed to reopen. Far from it, in fact, as they predict that we will enter into an entirely new ‘normal’ characterised by high levels of customer anxiety about the potential health dangers posed by shops.

Store planners are, however, able quell these concerns by installing appropriate PPE to provide clear visual cues that succeed in reassuring shoppers that physical retail spaces are safe, clean and calm. By specifying to the suppliers of protective equipment that designs need to incorporate aesthetic features such as uncomplicated, slimline shapes and transparent materials, retailers will communicate the presence of order and control without creating an atmosphere which is overly imposing.

Moreover, solutions designed in this style will blend seamlessly into the existing interior architecture of a store so that visual merchandising campaigns, product launches and branded displays can continue being the most attention-grabbing areas.

  • Key consideration: commission PPE that is relevant to your brand, built for purpose and not overly imposing when fitted in stores.