// Non-essential retail stores in England will be able to reopen for the first time in almost three months today
// It marks the latest easing of lockdown restrictions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
// Wales and Scotland remain in lockdown, but Northern Ireland reoepned last week
Thousands of non-essential shops across England are reopening their doors to customers for the first time in almost three months in the latest easing of the coronavirus lockdown rules.
As department stores, fashion retailers, electronics and book stores and other high street shops reopen, many will have a new look with more spacious floor plans, limited numbers of customers and plenty of hand sanitiser stations.
All retailers have had to ensure they are “Covid-secure”, as per UK Government guidelines, and many have been keen to stress the extra precautions they are taking – from deep cleaning stores to putting items that have been tried on or returned in quarantine before putting them back on display on the shop floor.
- Shoppers return to high streets as Northern Ireland starts lockdown exit
- BRC warns “challenge is not over” as UK retail prepares to exit lockdown
- Retailers to start contributing to furlough bill from August
With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get businesses going again to stave off another wave of job losses.
Non-essential retail in Northern Ireland reopened last week, but Wales and Scotland continue to remain in lockdown for the time being.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did not know whether to expect “a flood or a trickle” when the shops reopened but hoped people would return in “sensible” numbers.
Visiting Westfield Stratford shopping centre in east London yesterday, he acknowledged some people may be nervous about returning to the shops after so long away but insisted they “should shop and shop with confidence”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak – who is reported to be considering a VAT cut to stimulate spending – warned on further redundancies as the government’s furlough scheme begins to unwind.
“There is going to be hardship ahead. People are going to lose their jobs,” he said.
While masks are mandatory on public transport from Monday, they are not compulsory in shops and most retailers are emphasising a sensible approach, using floor markings and signs to remind people to keep two metres apart and regularly wash or sanitise their hands.
The long-awaited reopening “marks a crucial time for thousands of retailers and hundreds of thousands of jobs”, the BRC said.
Councils across the country will be making use of government funding to safeguard high streets, taking measures including deploying council staff or volunteers to provide help and advice, creating more pedestrianised space and ensuring more frequent street cleaning.
Department store John Lewis will initially reopen two of its stores, in Kingston and Poole, as part of a phased approach, with 11 others to follow on Thursday.
The retailer had released a video last week outlining how they plan to welcome back customers in a post-lockdown climate.
Government guidance says items that have been tried on but not purchased should be isolated for 72 hours or cleaned before being returned to the shop floor and that changing rooms should remain closed where possible.
John Lewis, while keeping its fitting rooms shut, is piloting a virtual personal shopper in some stores in the coming weeks.
Technology will also be used for a planned trial of a virtual queuing system for John Lewis and Waitrose, using a customer’s phone to alert them to their position as they wait in a car or run other errands.
Shoppers at Selfridges, which is reopening its London, Manchester and Birmingham branches, will have the chance to try before they buy, but any non-purchased clothes will then be quarantined, while shoes and accessories will be cleaned with sanitising spray or steamed.
Meanwhile, London’s West End precinct is expecting around 80 per cent fewer visitors when it reopens today.
Primark, which will open each of its 153 English stores, has pledged to ensure basket handles are cleaned after each use and that every second till will be closed to maintain social distancing for customers and staff.
Waterstones said it would quarantine books which are browsed but not bought, while HMV said it would insist on hand sanitiser if music-lovers wish to flick through records in its A to Z section.
Many stores are also encouraging customers to make purchases by contactless card payments, with limits increased to £45.
Arcadia Group, which owns the likes of Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, has said it would not accept cash.
Live footfall cameras will be in operation at Westfield shopping centres to manage visitor numbers and safe distancing, and the centres will use cashless car parks and have hundreds of new bike racks.
Around 90 per cent of stores are expected to reopen at Liverpool One, with social distancing signage and markers in place throughout the complex.
London’s famous Covent Garden will have a one-way system in place when its Market Building reopens, restaurants will be open for takeaway only, and a new public seating area has been created in the piazza.
The city’s Spitalfields Traders Market will also reopen initially with 50 stalls, half the number it had pre-lockdown, and will use a one-way system marked out with floor vinyls and stencils.
with PA Wires