The retail sector has faced mixed fortunes during the Coronavirus pandemic, with essential retailers able to stay open while many non-essential businesses were forced to close.
As lockdown conditions start to be lifted, it’s an opportunity for shops to open their doors again, albeit in a ‘COVID-secure’ way.
But what does that mean for retailers – including those who have been able to trade throughout lockdown?
Here are some of the main issues retailers have faced, and the lasting legacy COVID-19 is likely to have on the sector in the months and years to come.
Degrees of distancing
Social distancing is one of the biggest challenges across the entire sector. It places limits on many aspects of trading:
- Queues at entrances and checkouts.
- Maximum customers in a store at any one time.
- Distance between customers and one-way systems.
Retailers have had to think fast, with makeshift social distancing markers just using brightly visible tape to designate two-metre boxes on the floor.
Over the coming months, the retail sector will need to continue to adapt to changing degrees of social distancing, such as the recently introduced ‘one metre plus’ rule, which allows customers to get closer together if mitigation measures like masks and physical barriers are used.
Online and on the road
Some retailers who were not able to open their physical stores during lockdown have continued trading as online-only businesses.
This has led to some novel collaborations – such as Argos, who have allowed customers to collect their orders from Sainsbury’s stores during lockdown, a partnership that looks set to continue for some time.
Others have unlocked previously untapped revenue streams, either by allowing customers to order directly online, or by providing home delivery options that were previously not available.
Back in business
The easing of lockdown creates a two-tier retail sector, with some businesses already trading for weeks with social distancing measures in place, while others are playing catch-up as they open their doors again for the first time.
However, the ever-changing path of the pandemic means conditions are unlikely to stay static for very long, which could quickly level the playing field across the entire bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce retail sector.
For retailers, the coming months are a time of shifting challenges, but also one of opportunities, to cut costs, serve customers in new and COVID-secure ways, while catering for emerging demands like hand soap, face masks and other personal protective equipment.