Facing Our Fears

In Buzz, July/August 2020 by Tracy JonesLeave a Comment

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Are people feeling safe as the economy reopens?

As businesses and borders begin to reopen, many of us are asking ourselves the same question: “Just because we can go out, does it mean we should?” 

A pandemic is a head game. We don’t quite trust the safety of our environment anymore, but we also yearn for normal routines; the grocery store can be the one destination enticing us out of our homes only for so long. 

According to a recent CNN poll, just 49 percent of Americans feel comfortable returning to their routines. It is up to us, and the businesses to which we venture, to create a ‘new normal,’ one that makes us all feel safe. 

In Raleigh, businesses are doing what they can to achieve that goal, including sanitizing surfaces, offering masks to guests and requiring staff to wear masks and gloves and checking their temperatures before each shift.

“I don’t know anyone who’s not being cautious at this point,” says Trey Bailey, the CEO of Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, about venturing back out. “All of our jewelry is being disinfected and we put out cleaner at each jewelry bay. There’s a lot of change for people operating.”

Sanitation station at Bailey’s
Sanitation station at Bailey’s | Photo by RDP3 Photography

Bailey says he understands his business meets a specific purpose. If someone is thinking about jewelry as a gift or if they need a piece repaired, they’ll don a mask and brave the elements, so to speak. Crowds are not an issue, especially in his 11,000-square-foot Cameron Village store, so there is a perceptible element of security in social distancing. Jewelry is also tactile. Whether a piece costs $50 or $5,000, people like to touch what they’re considering buying.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Bailey, who reports a record May in sales and says he is experiencing “very good” June traffic. “We were prepared for half of our business to be virtual appointments and that’s not the case. It’s more like 5 to 10 percent. Some older clients are asking what’s new by Facetime. That definitely wasn’t happening pre-COVID.”

But that balance of wanting to get back to a normal routine while still being cautious is real, an internal battle waging in us between what are known as explicit and implicit behaviors. 

“As we’ve been spending time at home, people have been explicitly saying they are ‘trapped’ or ‘stuck’ and desperately want to go out and do fun things,” says Stacy Wood, a marketing professor in NC State’s Poole College of Management. “But, implicitly, they’ve been developing good attitudes toward their new home activities—comfy pajamas, adventures in baking, time for hobbies and movies and books, connection with family, video calls with friends—and to the convenience of staying home; no traffic, no organizing, no getting dressed up, no bother.”

So when it comes right down to the decision about going out to a restaurant one night, our implicit attitudes creep in. People may think that it would be great to go out but then find themselves dragging their feet. Part of that, Wood says, is because we’ve become more aware of how germs are spread.

“For those who find this new knowledge hard to ignore, activities with few ‘touch-points’ will seem more attractive,” Wood says. “Businesses, like arcades, where patrons move around and touch the same points, will have to give people some level of control like having wipes they can use to wipe down buttons. Stores may have to change their layouts to make people feel able to move out of crowded sections easily. This will be tricky for retailers; having less dense product layouts can increase costs and decrease margins.”

For Raleigh resident Maggie McDonald, it’s not quite time to leisurely browse the racks of her favorite stores.

“I’m comfortable in a normal shopping routine as long as employers and other customers are adhering to guidelines,” McDonald says. “I like being at stores when they open and I wear gloves and a mask. If it’s crowded at all, I leave. I’m definitely shopping online more, though it feels wasteful with so much cardboard and emissions with every package.” 

McDonald says she feels caution is important and wants to take time to make sure she and her family of four are safe when they do decide to get back into a normal routine.

“I’ll go back to stores, but probably not until there’s a vaccine and enough people have had it to make it work properly,” McDonald says. “I can’t tell you how many things I’ve had to return.”

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