Britain's shoppers face 'new normal' of one-way walking systems

Brave new world of British retail: Shoppers face one-way walking system, tills behind screens, toilets and changing rooms closed and no seating when stores reopen – but will customers be too scared to return?

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Customers will soon enter a world of one-way systems and quarantined footwear when non-essential stores in Britain are allowed to reopen next month – but retail experts fear they may be too scared to return.

Thousands of shops, department stores and shopping centres can open from June 15, while outdoor markets and car showrooms will be allowed to open from next Monday as coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased.

But things will look very different in the revamped stores, with checkouts behind screens, toilets and changing rooms closed, a limit on the number of customers allowed inside the store at any time and no seating available.

Stores will also feature markings outside to assist with socially-distanced queuing and encourage customers to shop alone where possible, according to union-backed guidance issued by the British Retail Consortium.

But retail analyst Catherine Shuttleworth, from the Savvy marketing agency, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘It is fine saying the stores can open, but are we going to have the appetite to go back?

This graphic shows some of the changes that may be made to ensure reopening stores can minimise the spread of the virus

‘What we’ve seen during the lockdown is that people have shopped locally a bit more often. I think people will be concerned about going into big centres, places where they’ve got to get transport.

‘We’ve been really quite pleased with the way that we’ve been able to get our non-food items online – and online sales have gone through the roof.

‘Shopping is a social, fun experience a lot of the time and social distancing takes that away. It’s going to be a very different way of shopping from what we’re used to.’

Many outlets will also be expected to provide cleaning stations at the front of store including hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes for basket handles and the regularl cleaning of key touch points such as handrails.

Other safety measures include storing returned items for 72 hours before putting them back on the shop floor, and placing protective coverings on large items touched by the public such as beds or sofas.

People observe social distancing as they queue at a Waitrose supermarket in Battersea, South West London, last Thursday

The Government said non-essential shops including those selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books and electronics can open on June 15, along with tailors, auction houses, photography studios and indoor markets.

Which shops are opening – and what will stay shut? 

Still open 

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Garden centres 
  • Takeaway/delivery food outlets 

June 1

  • Outdoor markets
  • Car showrooms

June 15

  • Indoor markets 
  • Clothing and shoe shops
  • Toy stores
  • Bookshops 
  • Furniture shops 
  • Electronics stores
  • Photography studios 
  • Tailors
  • Auction houses 

Staying shut for now

  • Restaurants, bars and pubs
  • Cafes and canteens
  • Holiday accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs
  • Hairdressers, barbers, beauty and nail salons
  • Playgrounds, outdoor gyms and outdoor pools 
  • Piercing and tattoo parlours 
  • Caravan parks (commercial)
  • Libraries
  • Community centres
  • Places of worship
  • Museums and galleries
  • Nightclubs
  • Cinemas, theatres and concert halls
  • Bingo halls, casinos and betting shops
  • Spas and massage parlours
  • Skating rinks and funfairs
  • Indoor fitness studios, gyms and swimming pools
  • Indoor arcades, bowling alleys and soft play centres

Businesses will only be able to open once they have completed a risk assessment. Spot checks will be carried out and local authorities will work with the Government to ensure complaints by the public are followed up on.

Announcing the measures last night, Mr Johnson said he was hoping for an economic ‘bounce back’. He said: ‘I want to give the retail sector notice of our intentions to reopen shops, so they too can get ready.

‘It is very early days but we are very much hoping there will be a bounce back over the course of the next few months.’

He said the UK was coming to a ‘difficult change of gears’ and that it was ‘absolutely vital’ members of the public maintained social distancing. Shops must meet guidelines to protect shoppers and workers, Mr Johnson added.

He warned that powers were in place to enforce action if shops did not adhere to guidelines, including fines and jail sentences of up to two years.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: ‘Enabling these businesses to open will be a critical step on the road to rebuilding our economy and will support millions of jobs across the UK. The guidance we have set out today provides a vital framework to get shops open in a way that is safe for everyone.’

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director general, said: ‘Our shops are doing all they can to keep the public and their staff safe, and we’ve seen many retailers leading from the front with innovative solutions to do just that.

‘As more and more businesses turn their attention to reopening, this guidance will help them plan to do so safely and securely.’

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said: ‘This guidance will ensure that independent retailers provide safe environments for employees and customers.’

Hairdressers, nail bars and beauty salons, and the hospitality sector will remain closed due to there being a greater risk of transmission due to prolonged person-to-person contact, a Government spokesman said.

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting the PM reportedly said garden parties and BBQs with limited numbers could be allowed at the end of next month.

This would be accompanied by several preconditions but could be part of a move to allow people to mix in ‘social bubbles’ of up to ten people outdoors.

Uniformed doormen wear personal protective equipement outside an entrance to Fortnum & Mason department store in London’s Piccadilly last Thursday after it opened two Food Halls to customers as the lockdown restrictions are eased

A No 10 source said on Sunday that the UK still had some way to go before ‘social bubbles’ were allowed.

National Trust parks will also be allowed to reopen but their indoor spaces will have to remain shut, it is understood.

A major part of phase two is the gradual reopening of schools, which the PM has confirmed will go ahead despite opposition from the unions.

The test and trace system is set to launch at the end of this week, which the Government hopes will enable them to ease lockdown restrictions further. 

From quarantining returned items to keeping shoppers two metres apart … how the post-lockdown era will look in shops across Britain 


OUTSIDE SHOPS – Separate entrance/exits and floor markings for safe queuing 

Shoppers will be greeted by a very different exterior to many shops in Britain next month, with markings exepcted to be placed outside all stores – similar to those seen at supermarkets in recent months – to assist with queuing.

A limited number of separate entry and exit points are also being considered, which will also help staff keep on top of the number of customers in the store at any one time to ensure social distancing. 

Shops will have to calculate the number of shoppers who can reasonably follow the two-metre rule, based on the size of their store and its layout – with clear signage expected to be placed outside shops to explain this.

Staff will also have to control how many people are entering – and may need to have a Security Industry Authority licence to help manage this. Temporary barriers may also be required to stop people joining a queue.

Nearby shops will also have to work together to manage possible shared queuing areas in busier parts of towns and cities, and encourage customers to shop alone if they can – while noting this is not always possible. 

Scott Parsons, the manager of Westfield’s UK shopping centres, said they were better placed than narrow high streets to cope with large customer numbers because people can spread out.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ve got digital football trackers so we can safely manage crowds as they enter and exit we can impose one way systems and markings on the pavements.’

INSIDE STORES – Hand sanitisers, one-way systems and wiping down baskets 

Ensuring good hygiene and cleaning will be a major part of the reopening plan for shops across Britain, with provision of cleaning stations at the front of the store set to include hand sanitiser for customers.

Workers will also provide disinfectant wipes or spray and tissues for trolley and basket handles, while they will also regularly clean key ‘touch points’ such as door handles, lift buttons, keypads and stair or escalator handrails. 

Shoppers will see floor markings to help them comply with the two-metre social distancing rules, with stores advised to place these particularly in the most crowded areas and where queueing is expected.

There will also be clear signage in stores reminding customers of these measures, while staff will look at the layout of their stores to ensure aisles and walkways can be kept as clear as possible to ensure social distancing.

Workers could also remove promotional fixtures to help people keep apart, and consider implementing one-way systems using floor markings and signage, as well as making regular announcements to people to follow the rules.

Shops will also have to consider whether it is safe to keep customer toilets open or only on request. If open, they should ensure regular cleaning on multi-person touch points such as door handles, flushes and taps. 

Baby changing facilities should be kept available but with a higher frequency of cleaning, while cafes and restaurants will have to stay closed unless they are offering hot or cold food to be consumed off the premises.  

TRYING ON ITEMS – Changing rooms closed and a footwear quarantine

Shops will consider keeping their changing rooms closed, although if not they should have a worker in place at all times to ensure customers maintain social distancing. Seating will be removed or limited but spaced out in stores.

If products are provided in store to try before buying, such as TVs, headphones or PCs, companies are being urged to consuder if it is better for staff to demonstrate these instead of customers touching the item.

Services which require direct physical interaction with customers such as make-up or nail bars will not return yet, although specialised advice can be provided if staff follow hygiene and social distancing protocols.

Stores which help customers with large or heavy purchases should also they cannot help customers take this to their car – although if they do, they should give correct protection and advice for it to be done safely.

Shoe shops will ‘quarantine’ any footwear which is tried on but not bought to make sure they meet the rules on keeping customers safe, with Kurt Geiger saying it would bring in the rules to open shops next month.

Customers will also be asked to wear disposable ‘pop’ socks before trying on shoes in some stores. Any items not bought will be put in isolated storage for at least 24 hours before going back on display. 

In addition, shops will be expected to store returned items for 72 hours before putting them back on the shop floor, and placing protective coverings on large items touched by the public such as beds or sofas. 

This follows similar moves from Waterstones, which has said it will quarantine books handled by customers for 72 hours, and John Lewis, which has said it will quarantine clothes that shoppers try on. 

Cabinet Office Michael Gove said today that customers will have to ‘exercise restraint’ by not trying on clothing and testing goods when stores reopen, telling BBC Breakfast that shopping habits will have to change.

He said: ‘It is a new normal, but it will allow us to ensure there are a wider range of goods and will also ensure the economy can return to a new normal, that is absolutely vital for people’s jobs.’

Robert Forrester, chief executive of car dealership Vertu Motors, said his firm has set up new safety measures at showrooms. He told BBC Breakfast: ‘When you actually go for a test drive, you will be the only person in the car. 

‘We trust the vast majority of our customers to do the right thing. There are a lot of changes in how we sell cars. People are doing far more on the internet. Our online sales have gone up quite considerably over the period.’

AT THE CHECKOUT – Plastic screens for cashiers and card-only payments  

Shops will erect physical barriers at till points using flexiplastic to provide a barrier for those working on the tills, and every over till point will be closed if they are located near each other.

Non-essential doors will be left open to minimise the number of people who touch them – although this does not apply to fire doors, while stores will look at limiting the number of people in enclosed spaces such as lifts.

Customer order collection points will be set up to ensure people stay two metres apart with floor markings or a limit on the number of those allowed to wait – while product demonstrations will also now be unlikely to happen.  

Stores will also encourage cashless purchases, and any self-checkout touchscreens or keypads should be wiped between each use to minimise the risk of customers transfering the virus between each other.

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