England reopening date confirmed, John Lewis back on day one, Primark extends hours
The UK government has confirmed that non-essential stores, beauty and hair salons will be able to open as planned in England on April 12. That date had originally been given as the earliest possible time at which such stores would be able to return, but until the confirmation came there was always a chance the plan could change.
And it seems that retailers are more geared up to reopening safely this time than they were when the first lockdown ended last June. Back then, a great many retailers waited some time until they opened any or some of their shops, including retail giant John Lewis.
But on Tuesday, the company confirmed its reopening plans saying that all of its locations in England and Wales will open next Monday, excluding those that it plans to close permanently. The rules are different in Scotland and it plans to reopen its newly refurbished Edinburgh shop on May 14 and its Glasgow shop from April 26, subject to government guidance.
The return to almost normal trading will also include its changing rooms being open (“with appropriate safety measures in place”), which will be a key development if it’s replicated across the retail sector as changing rooms have been closed at many retailers for much of the past year.
John Lewis also said it will restart its children's shoe-fitting service. Next day Click & Collect services will also resume in its shops, in addition to pick-up locations in Waitrose, Co-op and Booths — taking the total number of collect locations to over 900.
But it won't quite be business as usual as there will be Customer Service Hosts who are assigned to welcome customers into the store and answer any questions while managing customer numbers, plus queues at entrances and in busy areas of the shop.
The company has also put protective screens at till points and areas of the shop where social distancing can’t be achieved and installed a "safe and simple returns process” including new drop boxes and quarantining returned stock for 48 hours.
In beauty, after months of being unable to take back beauty product packaging, it’s anticipating its “busiest period ever for our Beautycycle service, which rewards customers for bringing back empty hard to recycle beauty product packaging”.
Meanwhile Primark, which saw strong trading when stores reopened after earlier lockdowns, will extend its opening hours. In the first week, it will add two extra hours a day following the government saying stores would be able to do so.
But how keen will consumers be to shop? That’s still unclear although there’s anecdotal evidence that suggests they’re feeling more confident than they did in June.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the reopening of non-essential retail would go ahead, he said it was “fully justified” by the vaccine rollout success and much lower cases and hospitalisations. That seems to be key too in making consumers feel good about in-store shopping.
But Johnson also said Covid status certificates and mass weekly testing could eventually be required to allow further freedoms, so it’s clear that life is still far from normal.
The resumption of that more normal life is key for consumer willingness to buy fashion and beauty products. For instance, socialising is still severely limited and April 12 will only see the resumption of their ability to dine out in pubs and restaurants outdoors, with numbers still limited. Indoor dining won't return until May 17 and there's still no word on when foreign holidays will be able to resume, with both socialising and holidays crucial for the summer fashion and beauty seasons.
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