Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Britain’s high streets were full of life as its residents went about their day-to-day activities. But since then, this is no longer the case, as non-essential businesses have closed shops, with tens of thousands of their personnel remaining furloughed.
The reality is that some of these businesses will never reopen their doors to the public ever again, as many consumers turn towards web-based businesses. For those that will reopen, their owners will have no option but to find a way to adapt to an order where its clients are forced to observe social distancing to reduce their chances of getting infected.
According to the British Independent Retailers Association, there’s a high probability that as much as a fifth of its members will have to close down for good. As this happens, several non-food retailers, e.g., B&Q and Homebase have begun resuming their operations. For such businesses, they will need to follow the guidelines provided by the British Retail Consortium on how to keep their personnel and clients safe.
These are guidelines that were drawn up in a bid to assist those provided by the government on matters related to social distancing, and which are aimed at reducing the virus’s spread. While it’s not yet established on when businesses in the non-food retail sector may open their doors again, business owners have been encouraged to start making preparations in advance.
Some of the important points to remember include:
- Closing down services that require store personnel to directly interact with clients, e.g., when providing makeup advice.
- Providing hygiene stations fully stocked with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer
- Limited or reduced customer seating
- Altering the layout of the stores to facilitate the observance of social distancing rules
- Carefully manning or closing down the changing rooms
- Creation of one-way systems with proper signage and floor markings
- Encouraging the use of cashless systems
- Having to make frequent announcements to customers and store personnel encouraging them to observe social distancing.
- Limiting restocking of the businesses to outside normal opening hours
- Closing product demonstrations to ensure that groups will not form inside the stores
- Reducing the number of till points
- Reducing the number of entry and exit points, and where possible providing separate access points
- Encouraging the customers to go shopping alone, where possible
- Limiting the number of customers getting inside the store at any given time
- Proper distance markings and shared queuing with shops located close together
- Enacting possible temporary barriers to ensure that queues will not form inside and outside the businesses.
Having looked at the guidelines recommended, let’s now take a look at how some of the stores in Britain are faring, and what the future holds for them.
Many businesses in this sector of the economy were closed down a few days before the national lockdown was communicated by Boris Johnson. For those that were closed earlier, their owners did so to protect their personnel from possibly getting infected as they catered to customers.
Once the lockdown is lifted and operations begin to normalise, some businesses won’t find it easy for them to observe social distancing. The major hindrance for such ventures will be the size of the stores, as many of them aren’t big enough to make this possible. These are businesses where the personnel have no option but to interact directly with the clientele.
For instance, senior citizens often ask the personnel to offer them assistance in the form of reading the cards out alone. Additionally, the personnel in the stores also need to move about as they cater to those who are shopping inside the stores. But despite having limited space, many owners are sure that they will in a way get to comply with the guidelines mentioned earlier.
In some cases, the businesses will have to place signs outside and inside the shops indicating that there’s a limit to the number of shoppers allowed inside their facilities at any given time. Considering that businesses in this industry double up as cards and greetings shop, they tend to only get business around occasions and during the weekends.
Some operators have mentioned they are worried about the party products segment. While the market is often vibrant during the normal days, this might be greatly impacted in the coming days due to limited socializing. In the past, most of the business recorded was from people who were having drinks at social events and those who went out to dine.
The good news is that the greetings side will not be affected a lot as many Britons do like to send out and gift cards to the people in their lives.
For hairdressers, many are missing their regular clientele even as they muse on the kind of intimacies shared with customers. Professionals in this industry are akin to counsellors due to how clients get to open up to them. Customers often don’t have a hard time opening up to their hairdressers as they get their haircut.
As is the case with businesses in other industries, beauty salons and salons have had to cease operations since the onset of this pandemic. A majority of salon owners are relying on cash grants to help them pay their bills. As other owners look forward to resuming operations, it might take longer for salons to reopen their doors.
This is because of the personal nature of their operations as it may not be possible for them to maintain social distancing. Keep in mind that many of these rules will continue to remain in place for the foreseeable future. It’s not possible for the hairdresser to stay at least two meters from their clients.
If PPE is made readily available, the hairdressers may have to wear it to help them protect themselves and their clients. However, this may not be an easy fete as hairdressing is, by all means, a highly personal service, which may make wearing PPE to appear odd. Many salons will be at risk if their owners aren’t able to reopen them soon.
The reality is that not many businesses can survive an extended closure unless they are in a position to offer their services via the internet.
Estate agencies, like other businesses in other market segments, stopped operating in March. While some estate agents were lucky to grab their personal computers and telephones, there hasn’t been much business since then. The sad reality is that the normal operation of selling and buying houses has slowly ground down to a halt.
With many people having to remain indoors, the agencies haven’t managed to showcase any properties. All this has had to stop. Some are doing all they can to make sure that their existing properties remain on the fast track. Even as they continue to nurse dwindling sales, a majority are having to deal with numerous challenges as the solicitors they work with remain furloughed.
Some potential buyers have found themselves stuck in estate sales involving at-risk individuals. For instance, there are those where one of the involved parties is shielding, which requires every other person in that transaction to wait. This, however, isn’t to mean no sales are happening!
Some have been lucky enough to move several houses even as they continue to maintain social distancing. Despite being confident of riding out the remainder of the lockdown, most estate agents have expressed their concerns on matters related to reopening their businesses. While they still need to pay their personnel, the truth is that it will take a bit longer for them to not only market the available houses, but to also sell them.
Estate agents are among professionals who don’t get to receive instantaneous income. It may, therefore, take as much as three months for them to open up their doors to the public, and before they can start to earn any money. This is what is going to make up for the hardest part once the lockdown is lifted and agencies begin to operate again.
As the effects of the lockdown began to be felt, some bookstore owners started to make adjustments to how they operated. It’s something that led to a shift in their operations as book deliveries became the norm of the day. Owners resorted to taking orders via the telephone and then leaving the books outside the doorsteps of their clients.
However, it soon became clear that this simply wasn’t going to work for long. While the orders were there, they weren’t as many as the owners would have loved. In the end, the only viable option was to close the shop and begin furloughing themselves. Despite some of the shops being small, some owners have remained confident of their ability to resume operations without risking their health and that of their employees.
Going forward, they will, however, need to reduce the number of shoppers allowed inside at any given time. While this business is considered to be challenging by the bookstore owners, not many are worried about having to make substantial profits. For them, running such a business is a way for them to be active community members and engage in a profession they love.
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