Coronavirus: Five ways shopping will be different from now on


Shop worker at John Lewis Image copyright John Lewis

On Monday, non-essential shops in England will be allowed to reopen for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed.

This includes retailers offering clothes, toys, books, furniture and electronics.

For many people stuck indoors for weeks, it will be a welcome change of scene.

But with hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, shopping will not be like it was before 23 March.

Here are five ways it will be different from next week.

1. Shops will look very different

We’ve all seen the 2m markings and arrows on the floor in supermarkets showing customers how far apart they need to stay and which way to walk, and this will now be the case in other non-essential stores too.

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Media captionBluewater shopping centre prepares to reopen

People will also be asked to keep a set distance between each other on escalators. At John Lewis, for example, shoppers will be required to stand eight steps behind each other.

And only one person at a time will be allowed to use a lift at the department store, unless they are from the same household.

At Primark, two people can use a lift but only if they stand on designated spots.

There will be hand sanitising stations throughout shops and people will be encouraged to use hand gel when they enter a shop.

Image copyright Next
Image caption People will be encouraged to use hand sanitiser when they enter shops

Shop assistants will look different as well. At Next, employees will wear a protective visor and have the option of wearing an additional mouth and nose mask.

Many retailers are also fitting plastic screens at tills.

And there will be a lot more cleaning going on – of shopping baskets, door handles, counters and escalator rails.

Selfridges is one of the few retailers that will allow people to try clothes on but each fitting room will be sanitised by steaming and antibacterial cleaning after each customer use.

2. Shopping will be a solo sport

Government guidelines recommend people should shop alone where possible so hopes of hitting the stores with friends will have to wait.

Some retailers, such as Primark, will allow a group of people into their shops from Monday but they must be from the same household. They will also have to follow social distancing rules once they are inside the branch.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption People are being encouraged to go shopping on their own

Dan Simms, co-head of the UK retail agency team at Colliers International, reckons “the younger demographic will take advantage of the lifting of restrictions to socialise and visit retail destinations”.

But that is not expected to happen immediately from Monday as at the moment six people from different households are only allowed to meet outside.

And some shopping malls, such as Manchester’s Trafford Centre and others owned by Intu, have removed indoor seating areas to “support social distancing” and “to discourage people from gathering”.

Meanwhile, stopping for a coffee with a friend or sitting down for a bite to eat will be limited because some stores will not reopen their in-house cafes or restaurants.

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Media captionShopping will look different when stores reopen in England – here are some tips on staying safe

3. To touch or not to touch?

The British Retail Consortium’s guidance is that customers should be discouraged from handling products that they’re not going to buy. But the policy very much varies from retailer to retailer.

At Selfridges, shoppers can try on shoes and the footwear will be sanitised afterwards.

Kurt Geiger will also allow people to try on shoes – provided they use anti-bacterial hand gel first as well as a pop sock – but then the footwear will be placed in quarantine for 12 hours. But at H&M, people will not be allowed to try on footwear at all.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption UK High Streets are unlikely to return to crowded scenes like this for some time

It is the same for clothing. At Next, for example, customers can handle clothes but at Selfridges, shoppers will be asked not to touch items unless they intend to buy them. If they do, the garment will be quarantined for 72 hours.

This is based on government guidance that the risk of infection from coronavirus on a surface is likely to be “reduced significantly” after a three-day period.

The majority of retailers will close their changing rooms and goods returned will be quarantined for 72 hours.

Some shops will also offer contactless returns.

At Primark, customers will present the item they want to return to a staff member at a till, complete with their receipt which will be scanned. People will receive their refund and take their item to a returns section where it will be held for 72 hours before going back on the shop floor.

At Waterstone’s, that three-day rule will also apply to books that customers browse through in store, which will allow them to “self-heal”, according to chief executive James Daunt.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people will not be allowed to handle makeup or sniff a perfume bottle.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hands off: Shoppers will not be allowed to pick up products such as perfume

But picking things up in a shop might be a hard habit to break for some, says consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale.

“There will be this almost automatic behaviour of your muscles where you want to touch something,” she says. “But then you’re in the middle of the flow of your hand to the counter [and] you will remind yourself, ‘No, I can’t.'”

And this can create other problems.

4. People might be grumpy

Conventional wisdom suggests everyone will be delighted to get out of the house and treat themselves to a day’s shopping from Monday.

Not quite, says Ms Nightingale.

Restrictions in shops, such as not touching items or being told which direction to walk in is likely to frustrate people already experiencing anxiety since lockdown was enforced on 23 March.

Image copyright Primark
Image caption Many shops, like Primark, have installed plastic barriers at the tills

“We are basically living in a constant state of fear and anxiety – don’t leave the house, don’t touch anyone, don’t do exactly what you were doing before – this is not a normal way of human behaviour,” says Ms Nightingale.

That means people will be going back to shops after more than three months “with a pre-existing huge ball of negativity in our head, whether we want it or not”.

Even the smallest things can cause grumpiness. At HMV, which has already reopened stores in Canada and the US, shoppers are asked to sanitise their hands before handling any merchandise.

“There are confrontations in stores about it,” Doug Putman, the owner of HMV, told the BBC. “For some customers, they are very comfortable, for [others], they are a little less comfortable. And I think it just comes down to your personality type.”

On the whole, though, he expects people will do their bit. “What you’ve got is an overall public sentiment that even if you don’t believe that you should have to sanitise and this and that, you’re going to do it because it is the right thing.”

5. Be prepared to wait

Much like supermarkets, retailers will ask shoppers to queue to prevent overcrowding in stores and allow people to maintain 2m social distancing.

To relieve the tedium, some department store Selfridges will employ DJs to help make it a more “joyful experience”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Selfridges hopes live DJs will bring some joy to queuing customers

It may also take longer to pay for your shopping as some retailers will close every other cashier to prevent people being in close proximity to each other.

People may also have to wait for their favourite shop to even open in the first place. While retailers like Primark will open 153 stores in England on Monday, John Lewis is initially only reopening two sites, at Poole and Kingston-upon-Thames.

It intends to reopen 11 more stores the following week. Stores are being chosen on the proviso they are easily accessible by car, “therefore reducing the reliance on public transport for partners and customers”.