The great British High Street is dusting off the cobwebs, restocking the rails — and in some cases clearing away a few sad-looking Christmas decorations, after three long months.
But what awaits eager shoppers as non-essential stores roll back into action on Monday? BETH HALE has the lowdown on what to expect:
RINGING THE CHANGES
Going into and out of lockdown must feel all-too-familiar to retailers, but for shoppers there is one element of this latest reopening that is significantly different: changing rooms are back!
When stores reopened last summer, the cubicles had to stay closed so the only way to put on the clothes was to buy and try at home.
Stores were told fitting rooms should be closed ‘wherever possible’ because of challenges in operating them safely.
But the Government has given the green light to open them again for the first time in a year — so now customers can try before they buy.
Not all stores are planning to reopen their fitting rooms, though.
The great British High Street is dusting off the cobwebs, restocking the rails — and in some cases clearing away a few sad-looking Christmas decorations, after three long months. Stock image
Stores were told fitting rooms should be closed ‘wherever possible’ because of challenges in operating them safely. But the Government has given the green light to open them again for the first time in a year — so now customers can try before they buy
Social-distancing rules are still in place, with stores required to limit numbers of people allowed in at any one time so, yes, there might be a short queue outside
This is unsurprising given requirements to minimise transmission of the virus that include regular cleaning, breaks between the use of cubicles, and ensuring doors and curtains are kept open when not in use.
Stores are also advised to deploy a member of staff to control entry to changing areas and allow only one person at a time into a cubicle.
Among those stores reopening at least some of their changing rooms are John Lewis, H&M and River Island.
Next said it was undecided whether to reopen fitting rooms while both Marks & Spencer and Primark have said they will not do so, initially.
M&S, however, said that shoppers would be able to book appointments for ‘no contact’ bra fittings in stores, where a member of staff will advise customers on how to measure themselves.
Now open all hours
If you missed your shopping fix, there’s plenty of time to make the most of reopening.
Stores have been given special dispensation to open their doors from 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday.
The extension is intended to help reduce footfall, ease transport pressures and make social distancing easier while buying and browsing.
Quite how many stores will make use of the extension remains to be seen.
Primark, one of the few retailers which does not have an online arm, has already confirmed it will initially open for an extra two hours a day (an hour earlier in the morning and an hour later in the evening) in most of its shops nationwide.
But times will vary between stores, so customers should check their local opening hours.
In some branches, people will also be able to pay for their bra at the changing room, using ‘pay-with-me’ hand-held devices first trialled by M&S in its food stores during the Christmas period.
Shoe fittings are also back — to the relief of parents struggling with paper DIY foot measures.
John Lewis is among retailers preparing to get back to sizing up tiny (and bigger) feet.
Customers will be asked to use socks or pop socks when trying on shoes, which will be sanitised after.
Some shoe shops will have Perspex screens through which children can poke their feet to be measured.
WILL I HAVE TO QUEUE?
Social-distancing rules are still in place, with stores required to limit numbers of people allowed in at any one time so, yes, there might be a short queue outside. However, we are all experts at that, right?
Footfall is forecast to soar by 50 per cent in the first week of reopening, but still be more than 60 per cent below what it was in 2019, so sale-like scrums to push through the door aren’t thought likely.
Expect the now-usual floor markings setting out where to stand when waiting to get into store or to pay, and arrows to show the one-way systems in place.
Another familiar sight will be hand sanitisation stations at key points such as entrances, tills and changing rooms, as well as Perspex screens at any customer service contact points.
MASCARA AT THE READY
There’s not been much call for a bulging make-up bag during lockdown, nor is lipstick much of an option with our faces obscured by face masks, but now restrictions are easing and social activity is on the cards again, it might be time to refresh those beauty basics.
With hairdressers and nail salons soaring back into action in England from Monday, what about those beauty samples?
Don’t expect to be able to deploy testers in the supermarket aisles, but John Lewis has announced its beauty counters will be open and testers will be available in a socially distanced, heavily sanitised way.
Don’t expect to be able to deploy testers in the supermarket aisles, but John Lewis has announced its beauty counters will be open and testers will be available in a socially distanced, heavily sanitised way
The department store is anticipating its busiest week ever for its BeautyCycle service, which rewards customers for bringing back empty beauty product packaging, which is often hard to recycle.
To reward those who have held on to their empty containers, the retailer is doubling the amount they’re giving to people for returning them.
This means that for every five items of beauty packaging returned, customers will be given £10 off their next beauty purchase until the end of April.
Best of the sales
Jumpsuit, was £275, now £220, lkbennett.com (left). Right, Monsoon floral print satin dress, was £99, now £49.50, debenhams.com
Classic trench coat, was £259, now £181, tedbaker.com (left). Right, Square neck midi dress, was £199, now £119, tedbaker.com
Monsoon floral print satin dress, was £99, now £49.50, debenhams.com (left). Right, Classic trench coat, was £259, now £181, tedbaker.com
Dune clutch bag, was £145, now £58, debenhams. com
IT’S OUT WITH THE OLD …
If you’re worried that the shops will be full of all of last year’s stock, fear not.
Unlike after the first lockdown, when stores had mountains of merchandise to shift that had been ordered in expectation of a normal year, retailers were far more prepared for lockdown 3.0, ordering more cautiously.
The scenes of last year, with UK warehouses near capacity and retailers stashing container-loads of clothes in railway sidings and on disused industrial sites are gone.
More likely is worrying about containers carrying new stock being delayed (Covid, Brexit etc).
The major fashion retailers all have Summer 2021 in their sights, albeit a summer that may be geared up to adventures on home, rather than far-flung, shores.
For many Britons, the local shop has been a lifeline since the pandemic struck. An army of small business owners have adapted and innovated, not just to survive but to help those living nearby
If you missed your shopping fix, there’s plenty of time to make the most of reopening. Stores have been given special dispensation to open their doors from 7am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday
The huge surge in online shopping has helped. Take the non-bricks-and-mortar outfit Asos as an example — it has put on one and a half million customers over the past six months, with profits jumping to £106.4 million, up from £30.1 million a year earlier.
According to retail expert Clare Bailey, founder of the Retail Champion, businesses that have embraced online operations have been able to move old stock through click-and-collect services — which significantly weren’t able to operate during the first lockdown.
‘More businesses have realised the need to mix the physical and digital experience,’ she says.
‘Those who embraced digital can now enhance that with the physical experience, too.’
What about cafes and toilets?
Not all store cafes and restaurants will be open, given that the rules still don’t allow for dine-in services.
But takeaway is allowed. M&S is planning to open most of its cafes for a takeaway service, with a small number of stores with outdoor space opening for ‘dine-out’ refreshment.
And if you need to spend a penny after spending at the till, customer toilets are back open in most department stores.
As for stock left sitting in stores, John Lewis, which saw its online sales increase by 73 per cent last year moved much of its store stock over to its online operations, as did H&M.
An H&M spokesman says: ‘Despite the pandemic we managed to keep inventory levels under control with limited increase compared to last year.’
Retailers managed stock by deferring supply and buying less strongly-seasonal items (such as partywear).
Traditional New Year sales may have been curtailed, but online sales have continued to take place, clearing old items.
The usual Next mid-season sale, for instance, went live online the weekend before Easter, meaning by the time stores re-open, the retailer expects that most ‘sale’ goods will already have been cleared.
As for lines that have been left out on display, it has needed to be carefully covered to protect from dust.
At John Lewis some items of clothing, such as lingerie, were shrink-wrapped.
Even Primark, which hasn’t had an online operation to help it shift stock, has reassured shoppers they can expect to see new items on display in store.
Although it has also revealed it expects to sell £150 million of spring and summer lines that were stored in warehouses from last year.
Given we never got to see them, it’s all going to feel up to date anyway.
BACK YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENTS
For many Britons, the local shop has been a lifeline since the pandemic struck. An army of small business owners have adapted and innovated, not just to survive but to help those living nearby.
So as the High Street as a bigger entity reopens, spare a thought for those other independent businesses who have striven to keep the nation going in the crisis.
Retail expert Graham Soult, of the retail consultancy CannyInsights, says: ‘In Durham, where I do a lot of work, five new retailers opened in early December — away from the big names there is a lot of exciting stuff happening; people who maybe lost their jobs and decided to give their dream a go.’
With customers, understandably, nervous about how retailers are readying for the reopening, one band of shopkeepers preparing for crowds are those in coastal locations and tourist hotspots.
Earlier this month Roo Cross, founder of North Cornwall-based fashion independent Roo’s Beach, said: ‘We are bracing ourselves for the busiest summer we’ve ever seen.
‘We’re doubling the size of our store, so we’ll be well placed to take advantage of all the extra visitors.’
DAME HELENA MORRISSEY: Let’s spend for Britain
At long last our dormant High Streets, poised for their glorious spring awakening, are ready to burst into new life.
From Monday, after months condemned to dreary online clothes shopping, we can once again enjoy browsing racks of summer styles. We can feel the fabrics and appreciate the nuances of colour.
We can take an armful of different sizes into a changing room and try on clothes again before we buy, as we did pre-Covid.
I’m excited. Who would have thought clothes shopping could become such a treat? But that’s what happens when, for months, we’ve bought everything from websites and taken delivery of items that often don’t live up to expectations.
I’m excited. Who would have thought clothes shopping could become such a treat? But that’s what happens when, for months, we’ve bought everything from websites and taken delivery of items that often don’t live up to expectations, says Dame Helena Morrissey
It’s either the cut that’s wanting or the fit, the fabric that’s cheap-looking or the colour isn’t what it seemed online. Then, of course, there’s the bother of parcelling it up and returning it.
So, I’m celebrating the great re-opening. My husband and I live in London’s Notting Hill with seven of our nine children, and High Street Kensington is nearest for clothes shopping.
Our youngest Bea, 12, and Cecily, 13, are already plotting our first girls’ day out. I expect Westfield shopping centre will be involved, then I’ll visit the Zara store in Kensington to look for jeans: the only pair I have left has a giant hole in the knee.
I’m also planning to browse in Harvey Nichols’ luxurious designer floors and see what my favourite British label Roksanda has in store. Plus a visit to M&S for underwear then Brora, the Scottish fashion house, as three of my beautiful cashmere cardigans have succumbed to moths.
I’m celebrating the great re-opening. My husband and I live in London’s Notting Hill with seven of our nine children, and High Street Kensington is nearest for clothes shopping
It’s no coincidence that so many of us regard shopping as retail therapy: studies show it causes your brain to release more serotonin, the feel-good chemical. We’re social creatures, and a visit to a thriving High Street will allow us to chat to people and feel we’re really living again.
An outing to the shops is an experience, not just a transaction. If there’s a buzz in our High Streets, people will be attracted to them, shops will feel confident about hiring, entrepreneurs will think about opening up new businesses.
The industry has been hit hard: the British Retail Consortium says UK stores are down £27billion in lost sales during the three lockdowns, while the Centre for Retail Research this month revealed 188,685 retail jobs have gone between the start of the first lockdown and March 31 this year.
Shops might celebrate their re-opening with discounts or treats. We don’t need to splurge excessively, just to ‘get back out there’ and spend our pounds in the shops rather than online.
My message is unequivocal: we need our High Streets just as much as they need us.