Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed his “road map” to ease the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions – including permitting non-essential retailers in England to reopen on 12th April. The news has come as a massive relief for retailers who have been closed since the latest lockdown began at the beginning of January.
However, certain restrictions will still be in place to prevent the spread of the virus, including customers having to shop alone, or only with people from their own household. It was suggested face masks were likely to be required until at least 17th June – the earliest date Mr Johnson felt people might get back to more normal living.
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The dates are not set in stone, however, as the government is advocating a “cautious approach” to easing the lockdown, depending on whether the spread of the virus continues to slow down. If numbers start to rise again, the road map dates will be reviewed.
Which shops will reopen?
Shops classed as non-essential include clothing, homewares, tailors, car showrooms, betting shops, tobacconists, vape shops, mobile phone shops, electrical goods, bookshops, auction houses (except for those selling agricultural equipment and livestock) and market stalls.
Businesses can continue to operate a “click and collect” service, should they choose to do so, when they reopen.
The government is also hoping to discontinue social distancing in the summer, although like the other changes, it depends on whether coronavirus infections have fallen sufficiently.
The document detailing the road map to recovery notes how “difficult and damaging” the restrictions are for businesses. The possible easing of lockdown comes as a result of the widescale roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Sadly, April is too late for some retailers and the high street will be much altered when the non-essential stores finally reopen. Some major brands have gone into administration during the pandemic – most notably Debenhams, the UK arm of Victoria’s Secret, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge.
Other stores are reducing the number of branches, including John Lewis and Monsoon. John Lewis is planning more shopping online, after closing eight stores during 2020, with more possible closures this year in a bid to cut costs.
What do retailers think?
While most stores have struggled, some are optimistic and predict a retail revival after the pandemic. They have made good use of the latest lockdown by refurbishing their premises in a bid to attract customers back, like Roo Cross who founded Roo’s Beach – an independent fashion and lifestyle retailer in Porth, Newquay.
She is adding an on-site plant shop to go with the men’s and women’s fashions, footwear and accessories, lifestyle products and coffee. Roo says the aim is to inspire shoppers to reinvent themselves, have fun and feel great.
Anna Park, owner of the Anna boutiques chain across England, says the 12th April opening is later than expected. She believes shops should be allowed to open sooner due to the number of people who have now been vaccinated.
The financial implications become increasingly serious for every week that a fashion store remains closed, she explains, as fashions are “perishable” – so once the season is over, the clothing loses value.
Are shoppers ready to return?
According to trade site Retail Wire, 2021 will pose fresh challenges for shops due to changes in consumer demand and behaviour. Dick Seesel, owner of Retailing in Focus LLC, says the widespread distribution of the vaccine will improve consumer confidence, with traffic gradually returning to the high street as more people start to feel safe. Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data, agrees the vaccine, and hopefully the virus being nearly eradicated, will get shoppers fully engaged with high street stores again this year.
The lockdown roadmaps are slightly different in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, where leaders remain more cautious. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced non-essential shops will be opening on 26th April at the earliest.
In Wales, the next review of the lockdown rules is due around 12th March, when ministers will discuss reopening non-essential retail outlets.
In Northern Ireland, the lockdown has been extended until 1st April, but a review of the measures will take place on 18th March. Non-essential retailers will be able to resume click-and-collect services from 8th March.
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