It’s 9am and today for the first time in almost three months the shops across England are opening again, with of course social distancing in place. They opened a few days ago in Northern Ireland and at some point soon will reopen in Wales and Scotland. This is the time to get back to work for almost all of the country with the exception of hospitality, leisure and travel businesses but things will not be the same for a long time yet.
Lessons have already been learnt from supermarkets and if you go shopping today you can expect to be queuing outside each shop you wish to visit in turn. There will be no changing you mind and going back for that bargain you saw without re-queuing to renter the store. Changing rooms in many shops will be shut or queues will be longer to allow for sanitising between uses and don’t expect instore cafes to be open. Anything you pick up to examine from a book to an item of clothing will be removed from stock for 72 hours before it’s put back on the shelves.
Depending on the weather, and there may be sporadic thunderstorms in different parts of the country today, will determine how busy town centres are and this should be a forewarning for the end of summer when winter comes. We’ve already seen queues at supermarkets and DIY stores are longer when the sun is out and when Winter comes there may be few shoppers willing to queue in freezing conditions with an icy North wind blowing and if it’s chucking it down with rain.
There may yet be more changes with the Government having put a formal review of the 2m social distancing standard in process, expected to report back by the 4th of July. Many retailers and especially the hospitality industry are calling for a relaxation to just 1m but this comes with risk – as in fact does 2m.
“Much as I would like to see it reduced – everyone would like to see that reduced from an economic perspective – we can only do that if it’s safe and responsible to do so… scientists had made clear there is a different degree of risk at different levels.”
– Rishi Sunak, Chancellor, speaking on the Andrew Marr show yesterday
The Government’s scientific advisers suggest that reducing social distancing to 1m is about 10 times more risky than staying 2m apart. However the Government have to balance this with the chances of being next to someone who is infected with the Coronavirus. At one time it was estimated that 1 in 400 were infected but this has come down to an estimated 1 in 1000 and so the chance of catching Coronavirus is in itself already reduced.
Ultimately it is all about consumer confidence and, just as wearing face coverings on public transport which is mandatory from today is more about reassurance than real protection, reducing the social distance is likely to have the opposite effect on shoppers and decrease their comfort levels.
Boris Johnson is keep to get shoppers back to the high street – it’s an essential part of the economy and ministers are all too aware that, with many who won’t be going back to work and about to face redundancy, to add fear to those still working won’t fill our high street shops. With the current rules Boris is keen to get people shopping and said “People should shop, and shop with confidence” and he won’t want a smaller social distance putting shoppers off.
With all that’s going on on the high street, the reality is that many consumers will simply stay away regardless of how safe they are told it may be and continue doing what they’ve done for the past three months – shop online.
Getting back to work for the retail sector won’t be the same as the day they were ordered to lock their stores and stay closed. It also won’t be the same for many in other parts of the economy with the pubs, restaurants and much of the leisure industry still shut, along with hairdresses, manicurists and similar trades.
And, this is just the UK and specifically England – for those that sell online there is also the situation in every other country around the world to consider. Will they be back on the high street as they go back to work or will they also shop online.
With so much uncertainty as we go back to work, we are holding a webinar this Thursday at 11am looking at not only how the Coronavirus will impact your business over the coming months, but also what else to expect such as Brexit impacts at the end of the year. Sign up here to attend and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to prepare your business for the next six months and beyond.