For some people, the reopening of non-essential shops this week will have come as blessed relief. To others, this further relaxation of the lockdown will cause heightened anxiety and speculation about a second wave of the virus that has seen us all confined to our homes for the last three months.
This week, you couldn’t turn the page of a newspaper or visit a news site without seeing the images of huge queues as customers eagerly awaited their turn in Primark. In some more worrying imagery, those clamouring to get into Nike Town on Oxford Street, were blatantly ignoring social distancing measures and many were not wearing a face-covering, as is now the suggestion from the government.
The question around shops reopening has caused serious distress amongst some families. People who are religiously sticking to the government guidelines are wondering why it's ok for them to go to Primark with hundreds of others but it's not ok to go and visit family members who have also been strictly adhering to the rules.
So why are shops reopening? Well the government has the unenviable task of having to balance controlling the spread of the virus, with reopening the economy - the official figure shows the UK economy shrank by a fifth in April.
However, the high street in its pre-covid form had been struggling for years before the lockdown with consumers moving towards online shopping, or according to Retail Week, a desire for customer experience over basic transactional shopping. So it does call to question why reopening bricks and mortar stores is the best way to kickstart the economy.
Initially the figures looked good - with a 50% increase in footfall this week on the same period as last week. But if you look at the numbers compared to last year they are down by a massive 34%. GlobalData has also suggested that Covid-19 will leave behind a £37billion hole in the retail sector.
That said, there has been a surge in customers choosing to support small independent businesses as a result of the pandemic, with almost 60% choosing to shop at local stores to help support them during the lockdown. Will we see this trend of moving towards local independent businesses being sustained now that some of our favourite high street stores are back in action? I hope so.
The retail sector has been in need of a serious shake up for some time. And whilst I’m by no means suggesting a global pandemic was what anyone or anything needed, it has made all of us reflect on our choices. According to analysis from Deloitte, 62% of us are more likely to spend money at shops that take extra steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff as well as customers. So has the pandemic made us a kinder and more thoughtful nation? And will it push the retail industry to put staff well-being above profits? Only time will tell but I think the businesses that come out on top will be the ones with a renewed commitment to safety, quality and demonstrable customer care.
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