The re-opening of non-essential retail stores – what are the new rules and what changes can we expect when shopping?
It’s finally time for some parts of the retail industry to dust off shelves and re-open doors after the government announced the phased re-opening of… Read more
It’s finally time for some parts of the retail industry to dust off shelves and re-open doors after the government announced the phased re-opening of non-essential retail stores from 15 June.
This provides a much-needed green light for the retail industry which has been severely impacted by a significant reduction and loss in sales since the closure of all non-essential shops at the beginning of lockdown on 23 March.
However, retailers are not completely out of the woods. The provisional re-opening date is still conditional on the government meeting the five tests set out last month which dictate the easing of lockdown restrictions. In addition, stores also face the mammoth task of operating in the “new normal” whereby retailers, in re-opening, must follow the new Covid-19 secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers by meeting the necessary social distancing measures and hygiene standards. We have summarised below some of the key measures retailers should be considering in preparation for the re-opening of stores and some of the new measures we can expect to see in-store at some retailers.
Getting to a store and queuing at arrival
Retailers are encouraged to:
- help customers to avoid traveling to stores and shopping centres via public transport by working with your local area to provide additional parking or facilities such as bike racks;
- use outside premises (such as car parks) for customer queues before entering stores where available and safe; and
- manage queues outside stores to ensure social distancing measures are followed, for example by introducing queueing systems and having staff direct customers.
Stores such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, are arguably already one step ahead of other non-essential retailers, with the ability to implement valuable experience from their respective food businesses that have remained open throughout lockdown. John Lewis have announced a phased re-opening of their stores and will have a dedicated customer service host in place to monitor the number of customers in-store at any one time. Whereas Marks & Spencer will have a member of staff on-hand to manage customers moving in and out of the store.
Entering a store
The specific measures that retailers will need to consider are:
- Placing a poster in the window to demonstrate awareness of the guidance and an explanation of social distancing measures practised in-store;
- Setting out the number of customers that can reasonably follow 2 metre social distancing within the store and limiting the number of customers allowed in-store at one time accordingly. This should take into account total floorspace as well as areas of congestion in the store such as pay zones and doorways.
Stores based in shopping centres should note that under the guidelines, shopping centres have a responsibility to, on behalf of retailers, manage the number of customers entering and exiting the centre as well as in communal areas. Large, spacious shopping centres are likely to be able to implement the social distancing measures much more smoothly than their high street counterparts, with shopping centres such as Westfield confirming that pre-installed technology such as digital footfall trackers will help to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to amongst visitors. Department store Harrods have also announced similar footfall monitoring technology it has in place to limit in-store capacity and ensure compliance with the guidelines.
Nearly all retailers that have made re-opening announcements including Boots, Marks & Spencer, Primark and Harrods, have also confirmed the installation of hand sanitiser stations at entrances, exits and throughout stores for customers. Stores such as Harrods, Reiss and Primark have also notified customers of enhanced cleaning programmes, in particular around high-frequency touchpoints such as till areas.
Shopping and browsing in-store
Retailers are encouraged to minimise contact during the in-store shopping experience by considering the following guidelines:
- Encouraging customers to avoid handling products whilst browsing, if at all possible;
- Storing returned items for 72 hours before putting them back out onto the shop floor;
- Placing protective coverings on large items touched by the public, such as beds or sofas;
- Frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly including self-checkouts and trolleys;
- Suspending or reducing service lines of the business that cannot be undertaken without breaching social distancing guidelines;
- Encouraging customers to shop alone where possible, unless specific assistance is required; and
- Reducing congestion and contact between customers during their time in the store. This can be achieved by following 2 metre social distancing in managing queues and/or implementing a one-way flow of customers where possible.
Whilst many chains are considering re-opening on a gradual basis, high street fashion retailer Primark, whose sales figures plummeted to zero during the lockdown due to the lack of an e-commerce offering, has announced the re-opening of all 153 of its stores on 15 June. The retailer has confirmed the installation of perspex screens at till areas to minimise contact between customers and employees, and that every second till will be closed to follow the 2 metre social distancing rules.
With the new guidelines for in-store operations indicating close-contact services should remain suspended, many are wondering how beauty halls will operate. Boots have stated that tester products will temporarily be removed from counters and will instead be handed out individually by beauty advisors and that face-to-face beauty consultations will also be suspended. However the retailers has instead focussed on enhancing its digital offering by launching online video consultations with No.7 beauty advisors for skincare and cosmetics advice.
Boots UK chief operating officer has also announced its intention to help nervous customers concerned about returning to the high street, by exploring the use of geo-targeted adverts to let customers know when their local store is less busy, to encourage in-store trips.
Fitting rooms, handling goods and interactions at the point of sale
Under the guidance, retailers are advised:
- fitting rooms should be closed wherever possible to reduce physical contact;
- In-store customer collections, including services such as ‘click and collect’, should be managed by staggering collection times for customers collecting items and implementing a queuing system to ensure 2 metre social distancing;
- Contactless refunds should be encouraged where possible; and
- To consider setting up no contact return procedures where customers can take return goods to designated areas.
The closure of fitting rooms may not affect all retailers such as Kurt Geiger, but the successful shoe retailer has already announced that customers trying on shoes will asked to wear either disposable pop socks (provided by the retailer) or their own socks when doing so. Furthermore, all shoes that have been tried on by customers will automatically be quarantined for 24 hours before another customer can try them on.
Meanwhile high street retailer, Reiss has announced that they will be encouraging customers to purchase and try items on at home and have extended their returns policy from 14 days to 60 days to facilitate this new policy. Marks and Spencer have also confirmed their fitting rooms will be closed, but refund policies will remain at 90 days to allow flexibility for such changes. The British retailer has also confirmed clothing tills are ready to accept contactless payments up to the new limit of £45 to diminish contact at till areas.
We encourage retailers to read the full government guidance here in order to properly implement the relevant measures of the guidelines for your business.
The government has also pledged to continue working with local authorities in carrying out spot checks on re-opened businesses and to follow-up on concerns raised by members of the public regarding compliance with the guidelines. Retailers should be wary of fines and jail sentences of up to two years for flouting the guidelines and failing to protect customers and staff.
The introduction of these new measures place a lot of strain on already-delicate retailers. Having strict guidelines in place at shopping centres and on the high street directly contradicts the typically fun, care-free and social nature of an in-store shopping experience. There is also the added pressure of stores having to work hard to combat any feelings of uneasiness amongst customers returning to shop in-store post-lockdown, in order to encourage sales and re-start businesses.
With many retailers turning to digital offerings and online solutions to navigate the re-opening of stores, Kemp Little are well-placed as a technology boutique to advise and guide you through this challenging time. For further information on how we can help you and your business navigate the effects of Covid-19, please see our Covid-19 hub.
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Roshiny Panchalingam is a commercial technology associate
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