Vancouver clothing stores eye reopening with changes to fitting rooms, returns

Click to play video 'Apparel retailers face unique challenges in reopening stores' Apparel retailers face unique challenges in reopening stores
Along with health and safety protocols to maintain physical distancing, apparel retailers face a unique set of challenges as they prepare to reopen - including altering the fitting room experience and putting a hold on returned items. Kristen Robinson reports.

While wearing masks may become the new normal for shopping in grocery stores, clothing retailers are facing another set of challenges as they prepare to reopen — including new protocols for the fitting room experience and returns and exchanges.

Sharon Hayles has owned Diane’s Lingerie for seven of its 37 years in Vancouver’s South Granville shopping district, and she says the new reality in retail apparel is going to look very different from what her clientele is accustomed to.

“We’re going to try and make it as normal as we possibly can,” Hayles told Global News.

“We have to limit the number of people that will be in the store.”

Hayles closed her small business temporarily in mid-March and is now planning to reopen on June 1 with several health and safety measures in place.

Story continues below advertisement

The store is in the process of being fully sanitized before any merchandise is returned to sales racks. Hayles is also ordering hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment including masks, which staff and customers will be required to wear.

“We have an idea of what our customers are going to be looking for from a safety perspective,” said Hayles.

“Also I want to make sure that my staff feel comfortable coming back to work.”

Hayles believes her biggest challenge will be getting customers to return amid strict physical distancing, constant cleaning, plexiglass barriers at the point of purchase and mandatory masks.

“We sort of had to do a very abrupt halt so I think there’s going to be some fear in the community with coming in,” said Hayles.

“Because we are a lingerie store, it’s a little more intimate.”

Greg Wilson, the director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, says small stores will have a difficult task in making sure there’s adequate room for customers.

“Between customers they’ll have to do a clean of the high touch points, things like the door handles,” Wilson told Global News.

Only three of Hayles’ six fitting rooms will be open at a time – but all of them will be rotated and subject to regular sanitization after use so customers don’t have to wait too long for turnover.

Story continues below advertisement

South of the border, Macy’s, the largest U.S. department store operator by sales, is also only opening a few fitting rooms as it restarts its roughly 775 locations.

Nordstrom Canada told Global News it is also modifying the fitting room experience but no details were available on how it will be altered.

Any tried-on or returned merchandise will be kept off the Nordstrom sales floor for a period of time.

Similarly, Macy’s says any returns or items tried on by customers will be held or quarantined for 24 hours before going back to racks.

Hayles says due to online business, Diane’s Lingerie has already been quarantining returns.

“We’ve been quarantining them for about three days before we open them and get them back into inventory.”

The changes are a necessary burden for small retailers, which according to the retail council, will need the support of their communities to stay afloat as pandemic restrictions are eased.

“They’ve lost a season and they’re coming into a period where they have two years probably of much lower sales than they would have anticipated,” Wilson told Global News.

“So it’s going to be hard for them to survive that, the coming two years.”

Story continues below advertisement

Department stores are also not immune to the effects of COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, Nordstrom announced it would be permanently closing 16 of its 117 full-line stores while restructuring during the coronavirus pandemic.

15 Nordstrom locations in the U.S. will be shuttered along with a store in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Nordstrom Canada’s Lauren Adey told Global News the U.S.-based fashion retailer does not have a reopening date to share for its Vancouver, B.C. location.

Meantime, Hayles says health and safety precautions are a priority, and she’s in no rush to open her doors again.

She also realizes her business may not see the sales increases return as quickly as they might have hoped or anticipated.

“There’s still going to be some apprehension,” said Hayles.

“I think it’s going to be a gradual increase over the course of the whole summer.”