This week marks a big shift for the retail sector as many non-essential stores in England reopen their doors to the public. Boris Johnson has announced that as of the 15th June, non-essential stores can reopen in England, providing stringent health and safety guidelines are set in place to protect staff and customers from spreading the virus.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, retailers such as Primark who don’t offer the option of online shopping have experienced a decline in profit margins at a rate of £650 million per month — a devasting amount for one the UK’s most desired low-budget fashion stores.
We’re seeing the reopening of non-essential shops in Wales and Scotland happen at a slightly slower pace, as lockdown measures remain under review, dependent on the R number and the number of infections. As everyone awaits more updates to emerge, the economy minister Ken Skates has indicated he would “absolutely” like to see non-essential retail reopening in Wales from 22 June.
Across the UK we’re watching the unfolding of a phased approach, with some major high street chains such as John Lewis and Next announcing that they will reopen their branches around the UK in stages.
Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with the regulations, supported by police. With this said, here are 11 vital pieces of advice to consider, helping to ensure a successful and safe return for retail businesses over the coming weeks and months.
Step 1: Closely monitor government guidelines
Stay aware of all government updates (which you can find here) and do not reopen any stores/branches until you feel confident that it is safe for both your staff and your customers. Closely monitor official advice and make your decisions accordingly.
Step 2: Install social distancing floor stickers
When the doors of your store can once again be opened to customers, you’ll need to keep some strict social distancing rules in place. Floor stickers are a great way to draw people’s attention and explain visually where they are safe to stand whilst in your shop and queuing to enter through your doors.
Step 3: Limit the number of people in the shop
You should also restrict the number of people who can be in your shop at any given time. Take similar measures to supermarkets and other food retailers and implement a one-in one-out system to avoid crowding. To cope with large volumes of customers queuing outside your store, consider putting barriers and security officers in place, to help safely manage and monitor queues.
Step 4: Keep changing rooms closed for now
Everyone’s favourite thing about shopping on the high street is finding an outfit we adore and rushing to the changing rooms to try it on. But for now, changing rooms should remain closed to help protect customers from potentially contracting the virus. Since numerous customers would be using changing rooms one after the other, it would be irresponsible for store owners to grant customers access to them until the government advice changes.
Step 5: Quarantine returned items
Since the virus is known to live on surfaces, it is important that returned items are dealt with carefully to protect all other customers and members of staff. Recent government rules outline that customers’ returned purchases should be quarantined for at least 72 hours before they are placed back on the floor for sale.
Step 6: Limit the level of contact between customers and clothes
The instruction ‘look, don’t touch’ is something we have all heard many times growing up our parents, and now is a more important time than ever to heed this advice. Government rules indicate that all stores should encourage customers to sterilise their hands before entering and limit the number of items they touch when browsing. As for trying on shoes, customers will only be allowed to do so if wearing disposable socks.Placing hand sanitising facilities outside stores that customers must use before entering is one way to ensure these precautions are taken seriously.
Step 7: Only accept contactless payments
Another thing that many retailers are changing is how they take payments. Only taking contactless payments is a good way to minimise contact and maintain social distancing on the shop floor. If you haven’t already, be sure to get a contactless payment system up and running.
Step 8: Provide your staff with PPE equipment if appropriate
To ensure an extra level of health and safety, provide your employees with PPE equipment such as gloves and face masks. Simple fabric face masks will be better than nothing if you have any difficulty sourcing official PPE.
Step 9: Provide hand sanitisers and other cleanliness reminders
Make sure that you have plenty of hygiene resources on the shop floor, available to your customers and your staff. You could also put health and safety advice posters up in your store for extra reminders.
Step 10: Consider who is essential to be on the premises
In the UK government’s official guidance (published on the 11th May), it was stated that all businesses should carefully consider who is essential to be on the premises. If you have staff who work behind the scenes, in administration or marketing roles, don’t encourage them to return to the premises unless you feel it is essential.
Step 11: Protecting people who are at higher risk
In addition, any employees who are deemed ‘high risk’ should not return to the premises as soon as it opens. If you are short-staffed, look into your recruitment options or project your need for low-risk staff members in your marketing efforts.
All of these methods will help you to create a safe space and get back to finding your flow as a retail business. As stated here, careful planning and monitoring is key. Going above and beyond for your employees and customers is of the utmost importance, and if this is conducted smoothly, UK high streets can continue working towards remaining Covid-secure.
In relation to the reopening of high street shops, Gary Peeling, Chief Executive Officer at Where The Trade Buys, a print company who have created many new health and safety products to enable a safe return to public spaces, said: “With shared spaces gradually reopening, businesses such as retail outlets, and charity shops will require numerous health and safety products to ensure the safeguarding of their staff, customers and suppliers. With high street doors reopening, careful planning will be needed in order to keep the necessary protective equipment in place and to monitor health and safety measures for shoppers and employees.”
This article was researched by UK print company Where The Trade Buys, currently producing PPE for UK retail stores, workplaces, education spaces, charity shops, the NHS and more. The company has also been involved in manufacturing face visors for NHS essential workers in the fight against Covid-19.