Social-distancing ‘champions,’ one-way store traffic, long lines — the new normal for England’s shoppers

Social-distancing ‘champions,’ one-way store traffic, long lines — the new normal for England’s shoppers

16 Jun    Finance News

Harrods, along with thousands of other U.K. shops, opened its doors for the first time in three months on Monday as Brits emerged from lockdown and stood in long lines to buy clothing, electronics and beauty products.

Figures showed footfall — or the number of people entering a shopping area — increased 50.5% compared with the same time last week, when only essential retailers such as grocers, along with garden centers, were allowed to open.

At the London department store Harrods, which closed for the first time in its 170-year history due to COVID-19, new innovations include “social-distancing champions” to offer guidance on how to stand 2 meters from fellow shoppers, and a one-way system to help consumers navigate the store without bumping into each other.

Read:Wealthy shoppers are set to shrug off coronavirus at Harrods with pandemic-proof personal shopping

It is also using technology that warns when the shop has reached its capacity of 4,500 people, in line with new guidelines. It would usually welcome 80,000 shoppers on a good day.

“We’ve had to rethink everything,” said Laura Brown, the legendary store’s retail director. “We are very mindful that our customers hold a huge amount of trust in the Harrods brand, and we want customers to have every confidence coming back into store.”

Despite the increased footfall seen Monday it is still around a third lower than a year ago in England, while it remains two-thirds lower in Scotland and just over half lower in Wales, according to research by the data firm Springboard.

In shopping centers footfall was up 34.1% on last week and by 33.4% in retail parks that comprise high street retailers.

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From the MarketWatch archives (January 2020): Security guards in world-famous Harrods store could go on strike

The welcome boost comes at a difficult time for major retail chains that were already under pressure before the pandemic from fierce competition from online rivals, and the effects of changing shopping habits.

A raft of companies had collapsed into administration, including Laura Ashley, Debenhams and Kath Kidston. On Monday builders merchant Travis Perkins TPK, -0.64% said it was shutting 165 branches and cutting 2,500 jobs.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium lobby group, said: “Across the U.K., thousands of shops which have been closed for almost three months can get back to serving their local customers.

“However, once the initial surge of pent-up demand for goods has passed, many retailers are likely to suffer from lower spending and footfall, as seen in other European countries. The government needs to stand ready to support consumer demand over the coming months.”

Read: Primark’s owner rallies as most stores to reopen in June without discounting

At fast-fashion chain Primark, owned by Associated British Foods ABF, , some shoppers stood in line overnight to ensure early entry to buy, and in some cases return, goods. There were similar scenes at Zara, owned by Spanish retail giant Inditex ITX, -1.19%, H&M HM.B, +0.34% and Nike Town NKE, +1.46%.

Monday also saw the reopening of zoos and teenagers returning to study.

It is now a requirement to wear a mask on all public transport.

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