Thought leadership

John Lewis is planning a phased reopening of its stores, using lessons it has learned on social distancing from the partnership’s Waitrose shops. Changes will include having a customer service host to monitor numbers inside and answer queries, and fewer entrances.

John Lewis and other non-essential shops in England can reopen on 15 June, with open air markets and car showrooms allowed to open from next week.

However, there are questions over whether shoppers will return. Shops must install new safety measures, but there are fears too few customers will come in to make it profitable and to keep businesses alive.

The British Association of Independent Retailers trade group said many small shops had been preparing to open from next week with safety measures. It called the 15 June reopening date “a little disappointing for the smaller retailers”.

Different rules apply in the devolved governments. The Welsh and Scottish governments are still advising lockdown, but are announcing updates on Thursday.

Northern Ireland has started easing some lockdown rules, and is also due to give an update on the same day.

Barista Kit Cockram and sweet shop owner Jeanette Walsh are both concerned that customers will not come flooding back immediately. “Just because the businesses are open, doesn’t mean that people will come, or that businesses will recover,” Kit told the BBC.

“I feel like I could lose my job if we don’t recover fast and efficiently enough. Or will I even be safe health-wise?. Some customers can be a threat to cafe workers and can become hostile and rude.”

Jeanette, who runs the sweet shop, Truly Scrumptious, told BBC Breakfast: “The big issue, I think, for a lot of business will be whether they get enough business coming in in those first few days to enable them to pay their staff.”

And analyst Catherine Shuttleworth, from the Savvy retail marketing agency, told the Today programme: “It is fine saying the stores can open, but are we going to have the appetite to go back?

“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.”

Jeanette has been busy preparing her shop for reopening safely. “I have installed a new glass screen to protect my staff and customers,” she said.

“I have reduced floor space so customers can only come in one at a time. And on the floor, both shop side and customer side, there will be signage to remind them of the two-metre distance ruling.”

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