Can associate dress codes support in-store social distancing?
University researchers conclude that the way store associates are dressed offers in-store signals that may be used as part of social distancing initiatives as consumers get more comfortable shopping in stores again.
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, professors from Georgia Southern University and University of Alabama pointed to their own pre-pandemic research that showed shoppers are almost twice as likely to interact with a formally dressed employee (i.e., a hair salon employee wearing a white lab coat) as one who was informally dressed (white polo).
The article also cited more recent research showing shoppers still significantly prefer a formally dressed employee over a casually dressed one, even when they are both wearing a mask.
Based largely on those insights, the professors’ suggestions include:
- Formal dressing for vaccinated associates: Beyond encouraging engagement for shopping reasons, having vaccinated employees dress more formally could encourage shoppers to approach them for assistance while their non-vaccinated colleagues could dress less formally to encourage less interaction. Having more formally-dressed associates could make customers are more willing to approach with questions, thereby reducing excessive time spent searching and touching objects around the store;
- Color codes: Associates could be assigned different colored clothing based on how comfortable they are being within close distance to others with shoppers alerted through signage at the store’s entrance;
- Continued masks for associates: With a University of Southern California survey that came in January showing that 83 percent of Americans are more likely to approach an employee with a face mask over an identical employee without a mask, continued employee mask wearing could instill greater confidence in an associate to support more satisfactory shopping experiences.
The researchers said the signals implied from associates’ wardrobe can help clear up confusion over different social-distancing guidelines across states, cities and stores. Wrote the professors, “Shoppers need to remember that not every frontline employee feels comfortable offering assistance right now and can look for cues that would signal who is open to being approached. Ultimately, as social protocol has changed so much in the past year, we all need to learn a few new ways to safely communicate as we navigate through this pandemic together.”
- What Retail Workers’ Attire Communicates to Customers – Harvard Business Review
- Half of U.S. adults don’t wear masks when in close contact with non-household members – University of Southern California
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Can associate wardrobes help guide in-store interactions to elevate comfort levels for both customers and associates as vaccines roll out? Which suggestions, if any, offered in the article make the most sense?