Signet Jewelers, which closed all of its stores in March, has now reopened 114 of them, with another 55 open but limited to curbside pickup.
Those 55 may also reopen in the near future, depending on local ordinances.
The reopenings are in states where the local authorities have loosened restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, including Georgia, Texas, Colorado, South Carolina, and Florida.
Even those 169 stores are just a fraction of the company’s U.S. fleet of 2,639 doors. Signet’s stores in the United Kingdom remain closed, though a small number have reopened in Canada.
Executive vice president of store operations Bill Luth (pictured) says that, in developing its reopening strategy, Signet wanted to “put the health and safety of its employees and customers first.”
The company is requiring all staff members to wear masks and sometimes gloves. It’s cleaning frequently touched surfaces several times a day, and every item will be wiped down before and after it has been touched by a customer. It’s also added contactless payment.
It isn’t, however, mandating customers wear masks, unless local ordinances require it.
“We may have signage asking customers to please wear a face covering and talking about helping each other stay safe,” Luth says. “There are many landlords—[mall owner] Simon is a good example—that are really good about providing hand-sanitizing stations as well as masks.”
Social distancing could also pose a challenge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay six feet away, or two arms’ length, from each other. The average jewelry counter is two feet wide.
Luth says Signet is working on ways to keep transactions at “arm’s length,” though it doesn’t plan to use arrows and one-way doors, as some supermarkets do, since that is hard to enforce. He notes that each locality has different social distancing rules.
“In Georgia, for example, they just say you can open up the business, please be respectful, and here are some best practices and guidelines. But in Texas, they said you can open up, but you can only have 25% of your fire code capacity in a store at a given time.”
For the moment, Signet is mostly limiting the number of customers in its stores to 10.
“We’re going to ask our customers to be respectful of that limit and have our managers help monitor that. If you’ve ever seen our stores, having no more than 10 people in any given store will certainly allow for proper distancing. But this is one of the ways the states are guiding us. Texas talked about, as the [COVID-19] case count begins to come down, they will allow greater numbers. So that’s where we’ll stay synced with what the local authorities are advising.”
Before they return to work, Signet employees will be trained on the new protocols. At the beginning of each day, they must do an affirmation and pledge adherence to the new health, safety, and cleaning guidelines. They will also be asked about their health and how they are feeling.
“Training is at the heart of what we do at Signet,” Luth said. “We want to make sure our team members know what’s required of them.”
Even with the new precautions, some employees—including older workers and those with underlying health issues—may be reluctant to return, Luth admits.
“We want to make sure that our team members are comfortable coming back to work and they can bring their full selves to work. We will ask our team members if they ready, willing, and able to return.”
Some employees may have other reasons to not come back.
“There may be some challenges with home care and childcare [due to closed schools]. That has really put pressure on some of our team members who would love to work but they just can’t. And so, we’ve relaxed all of our attendance policies. We’re working with our team members on a case-by-case basis, to make sure that we’ve got the right environment for them. When they’re ready to come back to work, we will welcome them with open arms, but we want to make sure they’re ready to do that.”
Of course, even if employees return to the stores, customers aren’t necessarily heading back to the malls. Some of Signet’s shopping-center neighbors haven’t yet reopened their doors.
So far, traffic has varied “state by state, center by center,” Luth says. “Some states are ready to go, and people want to come out and begin to shop. Other states that’s probably not the case. People aren’t quite ready.”
Just about all the open stores have added curbside pickup—which didn’t exist a month ago but has now become a big part of its business.
There’s also increased use of virtual appointments.
“We’ve stepped up capabilities where our store managers can completely connect with the customer,” says Luth. “Our customers can go on the site and say, ‘I want to talk to the store manager at Stonebriar mall in Dallas’ and they can set up a video conference, and then they can pick up the item at the store. So, we can take the site and marry it to the store and make it really synergistic. While traffic is light, it’s an opportunity for our team members inside a brick-and-mortar store to create their own virtual traffic.”
In addition, its sites now include live chat.
“If you go to the site, you’ll see a button. Push that button and you’ll be connected to one of our store managers working around the country. And there’s nobody better to connect with and really help explain jewelry and products that we have and really bring them to life.”
These virtual tools are still pretty new, but their adoption has been growing, says Luth: “Every week it’s getting stronger. We went from customers not even being aware of them, to doing tens of appointments a day to now thousands of appointments.”
As for the in-store experience, it will likely be different, for both customers and employees. Most salespeople aren’t used to doing their job with a mask on.
“It’s about building the relationship, and that’s one of the things that our managers in our teams are great at,” Luth says. “Whether somebody’s face is covered with a mask or not, it’s about the human connection, and it’s about the role that jewelry plays in people’s lives and really finding that perfect piece.”
Which is why, while jewelry may not have been considered an “essential” item in most state lockdowns, Luth feels meaningful objects will fill a need in a world turned upside down.
“In times like these, jewelry shines,” Luth says. “People aren’t going to take Mom to brunch on Sunday [for Mother’s Day]. But we certainly can find that piece of jewelry that has special meaning.”
-News from JCK Online