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For months, most of us have been quarantined at home, only venturing out for the essentials like groceries and opting for online shopping for everything else. But now, with many states slowly starting to reopen amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, so are retail shops that sell non-essential items including clothes, shoes, and accessories. However, despite stores putting stricter sanitation requirements and precautions in place, people are still feeling uncertain about shopping in person again.
According to a recent survey by First Insight, only 33 percent of U.S. customers feel safe shopping at a mall. And even more than that, 65 percent of women and 54 percent of men say they wouldn’t be comfortable using a dressing room. But while many remain hesitant, some people have braved shopping at stores post-COVID-19, including our very own shopping editor, Courtney Campbell. “I was initially a little nervous about the idea of shopping for clothes in stores again, but protocols like masks, a limited number of people, and the fact that the stores were disinfecting the items that people were trying on eased my concerns,” she says.
If you’re itching to start shopping for clothes at brick-and-mortar stores again but are understandably concerned about coronavirus, experts say there are a few things you can do to stay safe and reduce your risk of getting sick. Below is everything you need to know about shopping in the “new normal” and what to bring with you when you go.
How has COVID-19 changed shopping?
Even though stores are reopening across the country, shopping post-coronavirus will look a lot different than it used to. Retailers like Target, Nordstrom, and Kohl’s are putting new measures in place to help prevent the spread of the virus. Many are operating at reduced capacity, limiting the number of people who can be in the store at one time to ensure social distancing. Others are also closing dressing rooms, having more staff members on hand to regularly sanitize carts and baskets, and enacting more thorough sanitizing processes for returned or tried-on clothing.
Among the retailers who have revamped their shopping processes are American Eagle and Aerie. “We’ve removed some of the fixtures in our stores to account for social distancing, and we’re requiring that all guests and employees wear masks,” Hannah Grice, a sales associate at Aerie in Baltimore, Md., explains. “We’ve also put into place strict guidelines around maximum store capacities and we’re cleaning constantly (including registers and fitting rooms in between each guest) so that every individual can have the best shopping experience possible as we all adjust to our new normal.”
Is it safe to try on clothes?
Many stores have closed dressing rooms but some, like Aerie, have not and customers are still able to try on clothes while shopping. But is it a smart idea? Proceed at your own risk, experts say. There haven’t been enough studies done to determine how long coronavirus lives on fabric but if someone with the virus has touched the clothing and then you touch your eyes or face, there’s a chance you could get sick. To reduce your risk, sanitize your hands before and after trying on the clothes or wear disposable gloves if you’re worried. Avoid trying on anything that goes near your face, too, like scarves or sunglasses.
Fortunately, most retailers who have reopened dressing rooms have thorough cleaning procedures in place. Many sanitize the rooms in between each use and wash any clothes that have been tried on. Some stores like Macy’s have even said they keep tried-on clothes off the sales floor for at least 24 hours to help prevent the spread.
What should you bring when shopping?
While many stores are providing hand sanitizing stations and wipes, it’s always best to come prepared with your own just in case. The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol before you enter the store and then again after you leave. Because hand sanitizer is still such a hot commodity, if you’re having trouble finding it, our experts are constantly searching for and updating where you can buy hand sanitizer online right now.
Per the CDC’s recommendations—and many stores’ requirements—you should always wear a cloth face mask while you’re out shopping in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While there are plenty of retailers selling face masks online right now, our apparel expert at Reviewed tested out some of the most popular ones and ranked the best cloth face masks you can buy based on factors like comfort and quality.
Another smart thing to carry with you when shopping is a pack of sanitizing wipes (here’s where to find cleaning wipes still in stock). The CDC suggests wiping down “high-touch” areas like dressing room door knobs, drawer pulls, screens, etc. before touching them. Many retailers have team members sanitizing all of those areas on a regular basis but you can also bring your own for extra precautions.
Do you need to sanitize your new clothes?
According to experts and the CDC, you don’t need to be too concerned about bringing coronavirus into your home via your new purchases, especially with retailers engaging in stricter sanitation procedures. “Based on recommendations from the CDC, you don’t need to sanitize clothing to be safe,” our senior lab testing technician (and resident germ guru) Jonathan Chan, says. However, he adds, “If you’re worried, leave clothes out for three days, then wash them like you normally would to remove excess and sizing chemicals.” (Coronavirus only lives on surfaces for up to 72 hours, scientists have found.)
What if you’re not ready to shop in store again?
Still not convinced that it’s safe to return to shopping in person again? Our experts here at Reviewed have spent the last few months researching and finding all of the best places to shop safely online during COVID-19, whether you’re looking for activewear, swimsuits, bike shorts, and more. Many retailers—including Target, Kohl’s, and Dick’s Sporting Goods—are also offering curbside pickup, where you can order online and then pick up your purchase at the store without ever leaving your car.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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