‘I can’t wait to go shopping again, it's been ages’

By Amie Keeley
Business reporter

Brenda Allenby

"I've really missed shopping, museums too," says 74-year-old Brenda Allenby.

"I'll probably go to John Lewis, mainly to browse. It's just nice to have the opportunity to look around the shops again."

After a devastating year for High Streets up and down the country, retailers are hoping for a huge boost this week.

All non-essential shops in England and Wales will be able to welcome customers from Monday, more than three months after closing their doors.

In Scotland, non-essential retail is due to reopen on 26 April, while in Northern Ireland, only contactless click-and-collect will be permitted for non-essential retail businesses from 12 April.

Analysis firm Springboard is predicting almost a 50% uplift in footfall during the first week, followed by a further rise of 10% in the second.

While some shoppers are eager to hit the High Street, others remain wary and say they will continue to shop online.

'Desperate for the basics'

As well as visiting the hairdresser and the beautician, Brenda will be heading to London's Oxford Street.

She says she has bought a few things online over the last year, but prefers to go and look in person.

"There's a shop I like on Tottenham Court Road called Retro Revival which sells dresses, hats and shoes, so I'll have a look there.

"My daughter does everything online and always has. I'd rather see things and touch them."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There were queues when non-essential shops reopened after the second national lockdown

Kathy Crawford, 66, will be visiting Marks & Spencer as soon as it reopens on Monday and is willing to queue for as long as it takes to get in - something many shoppers faced when non-essential shops reopened last time.

"I just can't wait," she says. "I haven't bought anything for a year. I'm absolutely desperate for the basics out of Marks, [things like] leggings and vests."

Like many others, she has found the pandemic particularly isolating. She is retired and lives alone, so being able to do normal activities such as shopping cannot come soon enough.

"If I don't get out, I don't see anybody. The swimming pool has been closed and it's just been an absolute nightmare."

She is also not a fan of online shopping: "There are thousands of scams going on at the moment."

Different rules?

Wary of some of the problems that shoppers faced after the last lockdown ended, the government has relaxed some rules for retailers.

They will be allowed to open as late as 22:00 to help ease the problem of queues, although experts expect there will still be delays.

Fitting rooms will also be allowed to open, as long as strict cleaning measures are followed. However, all shoppers will still be expected to wear face masks and follow social distancing rules.

Sid Briggs, 19, is happy he'll be able to get back out and visit some of his favourite independent shops - many of which have struggled in the crisis. But the body piercing professional is also a bit wary about returning to the High Street.

"I'll try to avoid the crowds if it gets too busy. And I personally wouldn't use a changing room. Trying on things like jackets, I guess, are fine, but other than that, I'm just going to have to take the risk," he says.

Caitlin Booton, 23, says she is in no hurry to get back to the shops.

"I don't think it's very clever to open the shops now and risk another wave, like what we're seeing in Europe," she says. "I don't think we should rush into that.

"I still live with my parents as well, so I've got to watch it a bit."

'Customer service hosts'

Research from Deloitte shows just over half (56%) of consumers feel safe returning to the High Street this week.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, says businesses have spent hundreds of millions of pounds to make shops Covid secure for customers and staff.

John Lewis says it will have "customer service hosts" to manage customer numbers, while a new returns process will involve drop boxes and the quarantining of returned stock for 48 hours.

Ikea says its safety measures will include a staggered entry system to enable social distancing, hand sanitiser facilities throughout stores and more frequent cleaning routines.

Image caption,
Gwen Lee has booked a holiday cottage for the week of 12 April

For Gwen Lee, 56, and Jessica Ellery, 40, there are other things they are looking forward to more than shopping.

From 12 April, holidaying is England is allowed again, subject to certain conditions, as long as it is in self-contained accommodation. So Gwen has booked a holiday cottage in Wiltshire for the week of 12 April.

"I'm looking forward to getting out of London and seeing somewhere else for a while," she says.

Image caption,
Jessica Ellery does all of her clothes shopping online

Jessica Ellery says she is looking forward to visiting the hairdresser and eating out. However, she has been doing most of her High Street clothes shopping online since before the pandemic began and that won't change.

"I've been shopping at Asos and Oasis online during the pandemic. It's so easy because you just return anything by taking it back to the newsagent."

High Street stores were already struggling with the shift to online shopping before the crisis began, and that trend has accelerated since last March.

On top of that, the British Retail Consortium estimates that the three lockdowns have cost non-food stores £30bn in lost sales, leading to a number of retailers closing their doors for good.

Ms Dickinson warns: "While we expect an initial surge in spending when shops first open, the real test will be how this holds up in the weeks and months that follow."

Last year, shop footfall returned to 70% of 2019 levels, according to figures from the British Independent Retailers Association. But boss Andrew Goodacre says the sector "needs to do better than that".

"The vaccine programme will hopefully make people feel safer and encourage more people to the shops. We need good weather and no more threat of lockdowns."

What are your rights when shops reopen?

When non-essential retail reopens this week, you will be totally within your rights in a store or a restaurant to put down a product and leave if you feel uncomfortable. If you're worried about lack of ventilation, long queues, or other shoppers getting too close, then don't feel that you have to stay. Just leave.

Be careful around touchpoints. Many shops will provide hand sanitiser, but it's always useful to bring your own for any time you push a door handle, pick up a trolley, or rake through a clothes rack.

Hang on to your receipts. For lots of us, changing rooms might still feel a little too uncomfortable, so if you're buying without trying, then keep the receipt and check with the store. Most will offer you a refund, exchange or credit note if you return it within 28 days.