Viewpoint | 03 Jun 2020

How we are re-opening our retail stores

Max Taylor, Consumer Director, explains how and why Vodafone is adopting a phased re-opening of its retail stores and details the safety measures the company is taking to keep colleagues and customers safe.

From 15 June, Vodafone will be re-opening 65 of our retail stores, and if all goes well, we’ll open around 300 more a week later.

At this early stage, we’ll be keeping some of our stores in inner London closed because they are in locations that most of our retail colleagues would need to take public transport to get to. We don’t want them to do this at the moment.

The safety of our colleagues and customers remains our number one priority.

Our retail teams have done a fantastic job while working from home, quickly getting trained up to support our customers online using webchat and other tools. But many of our customers still prefer face-to-face help, support and guidance.

In fact, we’ve learned from our stores in Italy and Spain that around half of store interactions are with customers just needing technical support and advice – we’re not all about selling phones and broadband services.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that half of our stores are franchise businesses run by self-employed people. We’ve supported them during lockdown, but at some point, we, and they, have to reopen. So the question became how to do this as safely as possible and how to do it in a way that ensures our retail colleagues feel comfortable going back into the stores.

We are one team and I want everyone to feel comfortable with the decision to re-open the stores

Our specialist retail teams came up with preliminary plans, but we made sure to check them with our retail colleagues first. Because the people who work in our stores understand their stores best and understand our customers best.

We’ve worked really hard to make this a dialogue, listening and responding to our colleagues’ concerns and adapting our plans accordingly.

New-style coronavirus safe Vodafone store

Credits: Vodafone

Credits: Vodafone
The new Vodafone store lay-out ensures the safety of staff and customers

Of course, we’ve taken all the steps you’d expect to make our stores are safe as possible. We’ve:

  • deep-cleaned them and sprayed them with anti-bacterial treatments;
  • installed alcohol-based hand gel at all entrances, and provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff;
  • installed perspex protective screens at all our customer service points (that’s more than 2,000 stations rebuilt);
  • removed all display devices to reduce surface contamination risk (stock will only be brought out when we make a sale);
  • limited the number of customers allowed in store at any one time to maintain social distancing guidelines;
  • ensured staff have their own sales terminal that only they will use to reduce the chance of cross-contamination by other members of staff;
  • instigated set shift patterns so staff will always work with the same group of colleagues;
  • asked staff to avoid public transport, and if they can’t get to the store any other way, to continue working from home;
  • equipped staff with a personal stylus so they can help customers without the need to touch their devices; and
  • ensured our stores remain cashless to reduce contamination risk and the time it takes to process transactions.

We’ve also reimagined the lay-outs of all our stores and, in some that are too small to allow effective social distancing, we’ve set up kiosks at the front door instead.

And we wouldn’t be re-opening if we didn’t think our retail colleagues were happy with the safety measures we’ve taken. A survey of 1,540 of them revealed strong support for these precautions, because we took their feedback into consideration. It’s been a collaborative process all the way.

Each retail colleague will receive training in how to work safely and responsibly in this new environment, and anyone who’s vulnerable – or living with someone vulnerable – will not have to return to work in-store. We understand that while for most people the risk is now thought by the Government to be manageable, this isn’t true for all.

We’ll also continue to support our colleagues with online health and wellbeing consultations should they want them – the crisis may be receding, but it’s not over yet.

So we believe we’ve taken every measure possible to keep our colleagues and customers safe, but we want to see how the first phase works in practice – and what we can learn – before we open all the other stores.

We will keep listening and adapting as the situation changes

And if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 in an area near where we have stores open, we can close them again and redeploy our staff to working from home, as we’ve done before.

At Vodafone, our colleagues matter to us. We are one team and I want everyone to feel comfortable with the decision to re-open the stores. I’ve been delighted by the positive feedback and great insights shared by our retail colleagues so far, and by the way they adapted to new ways of helping our customers.

We will keep listening and adapting as the situation changes, so we can help our customers in the way they prefer to be helped, while keeping colleagues as safe as possible.

Finally, I’d like to give a huge thank-you to our retail teams for going above and beyond in their efforts to ready our stores for this new way of working. It makes me really proud to work for such an amazing company. Well done to all of you.