Restarting Retail is a small phrase but has really big implications. As restrictions begin to lift over the next few weeks retailers are putting together their plans for reopening their shops and stores. There is a lot of talk about a “new normal” and that is what we are facing. Retailers and consumers will have to adapt to new ways of doing business, for everyone’s sake. 

This article will help retailers to come to terms with restarting their businesses and the new reality of trading with the presence of COVID-19 in our communities. This reality will be with us for months and possibly years to come. This new way of trading has to work for you, your customers and your suppliers. It has to be viable so that your business can survive and thrive in the medium to long term.

Questions, questions.

When can I reopen? What do I have to do before I reopen my shop? What level of turnover can I expect? Will trading ever be back to pre-pandemic levels? How can I make my customers and staff feel safe? I’ll try and answer these really important questions under three main headings: operations, people and finance/sales. There’s a lot of information to cover so I’ve resorted to more bullet points than I would generally use, otherwise this would be a book instead of a blog post! I hope you find it helpful for your retail business. 


When can I reopen my shop?

The Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business is the Government timeline for lifting the restrictions on all businesses and society over 5 phases.

Phase 1

According to the Government Roadmap, the first phase commenced on 18th May, when garden centres, hardware and some services can reopen. This is the first of five phases in the Government Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. 

Phase 2

The next government announcement will be before the next phase is due to begin on June 8th, when small shops could reopen. According to the Roadmap this is:

Small retail outlets with [a] small number of staff on [the] basis that the retailer can control [the] number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any one time.”

Whether this phase happens on 8th June will depend on progress during phase 1 which commenced on 18th May. 

All protocols, social distancing and hygiene measures must be in place before you open your shop to the general public. This will protect the health and safety of yourself, your colleagues and customers.

Phases 3,4 and 5 see reopening of more retail outlets. 

  • Phase 3 is due on 29th June when all other non-essential retail outlets with a street level entrance and exit can reopen. 
  • Phase 4 is due on 20th July when higher risk services involving direct physical contact and where there is a population wide demand can reopen e.g hairdressers and barbers.
  • Phase 5 is the final phase due on 10th August when enclosed shopping centres can reopen where social distancing can be maintained. Higher risk services involving direct physical contact and where there is not a population wide demand can reopen e.g tattoo and piercing services.

What do I need to know before I can reopen my shop?

The main sources of information are from the Government and Health Service Executive (HSE). There are two key documents that are essential reading for all retailers. These are the Return to Work Safely Protocol”and the Retail Protection and Improvement Guide. I’ve summarised some key points from each below. However, you should familiarise yourself with the original documents also. There may be points that are applicable to your particular retail business that I haven’t covered in as much detail as you need here, so do refer to the useful official guidance. Also, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the official websites for updates and changes in guidelines.

Return to Work Safely Protocol

The Return to Work Safely Protocol was published by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Health on 8th May . This important general document is for all businesses in 7 steps and includes a useful directory of online resources and phone numbers at the end. This protocol covers the 7 steps that you must take to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. 

The protocol incorporates current advice about measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). As the advice issued by NPHET continues to evolve, this protocol and the measures employers and workers need to address may also change. Therefore, it should be noted that the attached details are non-exhaustive and are also subject to change. This Protocol is a general document applicable to all industry sectors. It is not designed to prohibit the introduction of further specific measures in particular sectors or workplaces, as long as they enhance the measures set out in the Protocol. In addition, further supports for employers and workers will be developed and provided where appropriate. This is a living document.

Summary of the seven steps

1. Develop and/or Update the COVID-19 Response Plan.

Including addressing the level(s) of risk associated with various workplaces and work activities in the COVID-19 business plans and OSH risk assessments. For example, where, how and to what sources of COVID-19 might workers be exposed, including the general public, customers, co-workers etc.

2. Develop or amend policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of workers who may have symptoms of COVID-19, as appropriate.

The prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a crucial step in protecting the worker involved, their colleagues, customers or others at the workplace.

3. Develop, Consult, Communicate and Implement Workplace Changes or Policies.

Including making available the necessary public health advice from the HSE and other sources as appropriate to their workers where there is no occupational health service available in a workplace.

4. Implementing the COVID-19 Prevention and Control Measures to Minimise risk to Workers.

Before returning to work, pre-return to work steps should be put in place and completed by both employers and workers. This will form a key part of your preparations for reopening. It includes a pre-return to work form for all workers. This section also addresses dealing with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace. 

It also covers specific information on the importance of hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing. There is a section on cleaning of work areas.

5. Worker Role

Workers should follow the public health advice, as well as any specific direction from the employer. The key to effective implementation of the infection and control measures in the workplace is having a strong communication and shared collaborative approach between employers and workers.

6. Customer Facing Roles (this is also covered in the next sections and in the NSAI Retail Protection and Improvement Guide).

Employers must:

  • eliminate physical interaction between workers and customers as much as is reasonably practicable through revised working arrangements. For example through provision of online or phone orders, contactless delivery or managed entry.
  • provide hand sanitisers at entry/exit points.
  • install physical barriers and clear markings to ensure that contact between workers and customers is kept to a minimum and to ensure that queues do not form between customers as they wait to be served.
  • implement a cleaning regime to ensure that contact points for workers and customers are kept visibly cleaned at all times.
  • display the advice on the COVID-19 measures in visible locations to ensure that customers are also adhering to what is required
7. Occupational Health and Safety Measures and Recommendations.

This section addresses existing Occupational Health and Safety provisions, first aid and mental health and wellbeing.

As you can see an important and comprehensive document that should be read in full. You could also signal this to your workforce through a newsletter or general communication.

Retail Protection and Improvement Guide

The second document is the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Retail Protection and Improvement Guide. This is a really practical guide to physical distancing and hygiene measures that must be in place in a retail setting. 

There are 3 main sections: 

          Defense – How to defend against the spread of COVID-19
          Exposure – Management and reduction of detected on-site cases
          Recovery – Recovery of processes and business functions after detection
Each section ends with a useful checklist. 

Highlights are:

  • Section 3.6.1 Physical distancing outside the shop including control of numbers inside the shop, queue management, signage, hand sanitiser and cleaning
  • Section 3.6.2 Physical distancing inside the shop including screens at checkouts, card payment, floor markings and lane monitors
  • Section 3.6.3 Minimise spread in a warehouse
  • Section 3.4.6 Zoning, dividing work areas with personnel allocated to work within each zone

Other areas you will need to consider are:

Shop layout

  • Look at your shop layout and devise a one way customer flow if possible.
  • Consider taking out fixtures to maintain the 2m social distancing and create a one way customer flow.
  • Limit the number of people in your shop at any one time depending on its size, dimensions and layout. 

Fitting rooms

If you operate a clothing shop: 

  • It may be advisable to close or remove fitting rooms 
  • If used, you will need to implement strict cleaning routines after each customer 
  • Use of fitting rooms will slow the flow of customers through the shop 
  • Consider an enhanced refund policy for your customers

Trading hours

  • Shorten trading hours if you have a requirement for cleaning and preparing your shop daily for trade
  • Lengthen your trading hours if you have a high throughput of customers, which will be reduced through social distancing measures.


  • Perspex shield for till point
  • Hand sanitiser and stand for entrance
  • Signage
  • If you are on a tight budget then you can download and print off most of the signs you will need for your shop on these two links.

All COVID-19 information posters including social distancing

HSE Coronavirus (COVID-19) posters and resources

Three overriding messages for all staff and customers

  • Wash your hands/hand hygiene
  • Cough and sneezing etiquette
  • Practice social distancing


This overlaps a lot with the operations information above but there are some important points to note.

  • Appoint a COVID-19 coordinator. This is an important role in keeping up to date with the latest changes and as a point of contact for other employees.
  • Pre-return to work questionnaire
  • COVID-19 induction training covering protocols, hygiene and social distancing 
  • Risk analysis if you have a reduced number of employees due to sickness
  • Communication with employees
  • Procedures for handling suspected cases in the workplace
  • Holidays and holiday planning

Communication is key to establishing a collaborative approach to managing this new trading reality. 

Finance and sales

What level of turnover can I expect? Will trading ever be back to pre-pandemic levels?  These questions are really hard to answer before you start trading again. However there are some steps you can take to begin to get a picture of where you stand financially.

  • Take a cold hard look at your business to assess its viability short and long term
  • Look at all your fixed costs, rent rates, utilities, staff costs
  • Try to gauge the level of expected turnover, historical data may not be much of a guide
  • Look at your stock inventory, do you need to discount older unseasonal stock to clear it and get some cash in the till? Can you afford to buy in new stock? Can you afford to warehouse stock until next spring?
  • What cash is in the business, can this give you a cushion to get back to trading?
  • Talk to your bank about extending your overdraft 
  • Talk to your suppliers to see if you can extend payment terms
  • Will you be trading at a loss? Short term or long term?
  • Can you look at different areas of product or service that are now in demand?
  • Has your market/customer changed? Can you provide an online shop for your customers?

Cash is king, take a good hard look at your business and don’t put your head in the sand.

Turnover is for vanity, profit is for sanity is an often quoted phrase but is even more true in this current trading environment.

I hope you’ve taken something from this information and found some tips to help you get to grips with reopening your shop. The pandemic will pass eventually and the retailers who survive and thrive during these tough times will reap the rewards in the end. Retailing has never been easy and COVID-19 has certainly made us all rethink how we do business.

If you need further advice on how to restart your retail business please contact me. 

© Retail Renewal 21/05/20

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