How to Handle a Power Failure in Your Store

Be Prepared In Case the Lights Go Out

Man holding a flashlight to his face during a power outage.

 Ali Berkin Sahin / EyeEm / Getty Images

We all hope we're never faced with having to operate a retail store without electricity. However, acts of nature, mechanical problems, and other emergency situations could result in a power failure at your store.

It is wise for all store owners and managers to have a plan in place, so you and your employees know what to do in this situation.

Prepare for Power Outages

So what do you do when the lights go out during store hours? Start by preparing a power loss procedure before it happens. Keep this plan in your store policy manual and communicate it with all store personnel.

Having a solid plan in place can help ease the hassle of doing business without power. It will also help keep everyone calm because they know exactly what to do. Employees can relay this relaxed attitude to customers who may panic (it does happen).

  • Place flashlights under each checkout, in the office, and in the stockroom. Be sure to check and replace the batteries periodically. These flashlights can be used to provide security for customers and staff.
  • Staff should immediately lock the front door. Place a sign on the door explaining why the store is closed during regular business hours. Thieves like to take advantage of vulnerable businesses, so it's best just to lock up.
  • Contact the utility company. Report the power outage and determine the cause and how long the power will be off.
  • Should you send staff home? If the power will not be restored within an hour, consider dismissing hourly employees. There is no point in paying them when there are no customers. Have them call in or return at a specified time.
  • Store management will need to handwrite the time they left on time cards as most time clocks will be inoperable.

How to Handle Customers

If there are any customers in the store when the power goes out, you should finish checking them out as quickly as possible. Cash registers and POS systems on a backup uninterrupted power supply (UPS) will have time to finish the transaction and properly shut the system down.

If your registers are not on a backup system and no longer operate without power, use a battery-powered calculator to total the sale, if possible. Many cash registers can be opened with a key for cash and check tendered sales. Keep good written records in order to add these transactions to the register later.

If customers have merchandise and the sale cannot be completed, offer to hold their cart or basket until they can return. You don't want to lose the sale, and it will show them that you care about customer service.

  • Get the customer's name and phone number.
  • Contact them when the power is back on or if they don't return as promised.

Retail stores that keep track of daily sales in a Beat Yesterday book (or similar log that compares sales history) should document the power failure and the length of time the store was closed.

Double Check the Store

  • Use flashlights to escort customers out of the store. 
  • Have employees check all parts of the store for customers. This includes restrooms and changing rooms.
  • Be sure that all employees are accounted for, and no one is stuck in a storeroom, office, or another part of the building.
  • Manually check and lock all cash registers and safes.