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Retailers ready for return to ‘joy of physical shopping’

Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Affairs Correspondent
·3-min read

Retailers are hoping pent-up demand and the fun of “physical shopping” will see consumers flooding back into bricks and mortar stores after a turbulent year of closures and restrictions.

Shops will be able to extend their opening hours from 7am to 10pm to help customers avoid peak times and ease transport pressures.

The Government’s updated safety guidance makes clear that all customers will have to continue to follow social distancing rules; shop alone or in small groups; queue or follow one-way signs where necessary; follow hygiene rules; and wear a face covering unless they have an exemption.

Coronavirus Retail
(PA Graphics)

Retailers have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on measures designed to prevent the transmission of Covid, including safety glass, queue management systems, social distancing signage, better ventilation, and more frequent cleaning.

The measures have been updated in accordance with the latest Government guidance, which addresses issues such as testing of staff, use of fitting rooms and safe use of air conditioning and ventilation.

After months forced online for non-essential shopping, consumers can finally try on clothes in fitting rooms, which remained closed during the last re-opening period, although not all retailers are opening the cubicles immediately as they come to terms with enhanced hygiene requirements.

Services such as fitting rooms are viewed as key for stores as they attempt to fight back against competition from online rivals.

John Lewis executive director Pippa Wicks said the retailer was “looking forward to reuniting customers with the joy of physical shopping”.

“We’re also excited to be opening up much-needed services and helping customers choose those items that are harder to buy online – from the perfect mattress, to road testing the right pram or finding the right pair of jeans.

“We want to make sure the shopping experience is as fun and inspiring as it’s ever been, while also ensuring that our customers and partners feel safe.”

The re-opening cannot come soon enough for the sector.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has calculated non-food stores have lost £30 billion in foregone sales over the three lockdowns.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Consumers appear to be more confident about visiting shops, showing that the safety measures put in place are clearly helping to make shoppers feel more comfortable visiting and returning to stores.

“Savings have been building up over lockdown, and the economic recovery relies on retailers being able to unlock the pent-up demand in the economy.”

The BRC and union Usdaw are asking people to play their part in keeping shop workers safe and ensuring there is no risk to the Government’s road map out of lockdown.

A staff member cleaning shoes at the John Lewis White City store ahead of reopening (Paul Grover/PA)
A staff member cleaning shoes at the John Lewis White City store ahead of reopening (Paul Grover/PA)

Ms Dickinson said: “Retailers are ready and are looking forward to welcoming people back into stores.

“Hopefully, things will start to get back to normal soon, but for now we need to be cautious and to look out for each other.

“We all need to play our part to keep ourselves, our fellow customers, and hardworking retail colleagues safe, so we are asking people to stick to the rules and not to overreact if someone asks you to wear a face covering or follow safety instructions when you’re out shopping.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers, which helps to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there.

“We expect employers to follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures.

“Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.”