An image of Shanghai Village taken on April 2, 2020, following the reopening last month.

The U.S. can look to China for guidance on how to reopen the country and rebuild consumer confidence after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

In a webinar Tuesday morning, Daniel Hodges, retail technology futurist and chief executive officer of Retail Store Tours, said that China is now in its 20th week of dealing with COVID-19, while the U.S. is entering week seven.

In February, he said, the consumer confidence index in America was 101, but dropped to 89 in March and is now 71. In contrast, China’s consumer confidence in February, during the height of the pandemic, was 43 and has now risen to 52.

Hodges said that right after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., consumer confidence “plummeted,” but by December, it had rebounded.

Using Shanghai as a case study, Hodges said as of three weeks ago, 95 percent of supermarkets were open as well as 85 percent of department stores, but at that point, the department stores were only at 40 percent of their pre-COVID-19 sales levels. However, delivery service businesses as well as digital brands were performing exceptionally well.

May 5, however, is the kickoff of the two-month-long Double Five Shopping Festival in Shanghai, he said, when companies including LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Kering, Coach and others will introduce new products and participate in some 100 events tied to the holidays of May Day, Children’s Day and the Dragon Boat Festival. L’Oréal China, Mary Kay, Adidas and others are also participating with new product launches.

According to the Shanghai Daily, which cited figures from China UnionPay, Alipay and WeChat, combined sales in the city’s online and offline channels surpassed 15.6 billion yuan, or $2.19 billion, in the 24 hours following the launch event on Monday evening.

This should be very encouraging to U.S. businesses as they slowly move to reopen. But he stressed that the world is facing a “light switch inflection point” it must now navigate, meaning that the climate has changed dramatically and new rules are now required. He urged businesses to “embrace” those rules — whether that is having employees wear masks with upbeat messages and greeting customers at the door with sanitizers — and be 100 percent committed to welcoming shoppers back and making them feel safe when they do take the plunge.

If 5 percent of a store’s former customers return and are treated well and made to feel safe, they’ll tell another 5 percent who will tell another 5 percent, and so on. “Customers are the walking billboard for the future of retail,” he said. “It’ll be one step at a time, one smile at a time, one elbow shake at a time. That’s how you’ll rebuild business.”

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