Retailers have been getting ready for exiting lockdown for some time and every business should have a detailed plan for how to start trading again.
Safety of colleagues and customers is paramount and that is why retailers should follow the guidance document published last week by BRC and Usdaw, which lays out detailed actions they can take to operate stores safely once they’re allowed to start trading again.
This guidance has been based on the hard-won experience of those retailers that have been able to continue trading during the lockdown and discussions with Usdaw.
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Reopening stores will involve a huge investment in protections for colleagues and customers – supermarkets alone have spent around £130 million since lockdown on social distancing and hygiene measures, including plastic screens, signage, floor markings, PPE and marshalling – and all retailers will face these unavoidable costs as lockdown is lifted.
In short, retailers will be ready and have done the thinking and the planning, supported by our guidance, to make reopening safe and successful. The BRC and Usdaw are also ready to assist any retailer in that process.
“The retail industry is ready to play its part in getting the UK’s economy moving again, safely”
However, while we are confident that retailers will make a success of store reopening, we recognise that we are part of a much larger ecosystem, with public transport, location of stores on high streets or in shopping centres, policing, and many other matters to be considered. So far the UK Government has not consulted in detail with the industry about all these factors, and if we are to make a success of the whole project this needs to happen urgently – otherwise the practical concerns being raised by retailers may not be addressed.
Our starting point is that retailers will only open where they can operate safely. If the UK Government attempts to impose a plan on businesses it risks being in conflict with their operational plans, causing confusion for them and for the public.
Secondly, the retail industry needs sufficient notice from the government of when stores are expected to reopen. Trading can’t begin from a standing start as supply chains need to ramp up, stores need to be prepared and colleagues need to be trained. This is particularly important when it comes to PPE – it will be vital to have forward notice of any decision to recommend use of PPE to maintain confidence and build up stocks. And if colleagues will need to wear masks, we will need clarity on the types to be worn and advice on how to dispose of them.
Finally, it will be important to have consistency across the UK, both in relation to the measures to be taken and the way in which messages are communicated.
The retail industry is ready to play its part in getting the UK’s economy moving again, safely. There is no doubt that the world is going to look different for some time and that shopping, at least for a while, is going to involve social distancing and other “new normal” measures.
If we are going to make a success of all this in the round, further collaboration between industry and government will be vital.
Helen Dickinson is the CEO of the British Retail Consortium. Paddy Lills is the General Secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.