The Government’s official 50-page guideline released this week for getting Britain back to work, says that “non-essential” stores, such as fashion retailers, may be able to reopen from June 1st, provided that social distancing measures and the correct level of sanitation have been put in place. What does that really mean? When will they be ready? And how will it feel to venture into your favourite retail haunts when their look and mood has dramatically changed?
The socially undistanced queues outside some French branches of Zara last week suggest that some shoppers strongly disagree with their government’s definition of non-essential. You have to wonder what they can get in store that they haven’t been able to buy from the brand’s website, which has been functioning throughout lockdown – other than the visceral instant gratification of trying something on and taking it home.
In the UK, management consulting firm BCG found that, for the majority of UK shoppers, it will take one to three months before they feel comfortable shopping in stores again, although visible health and safety measures will help reassure them. Here’s what we know so far.
Linen dungarees, £158.40, Brora
When will fashion stores reopen?
The Government’s June 1 date is not mandatory. The most likely scenario is a domino effect, with retailers keeping an eye on, and consulting with, their neighbours. British accessories brand Aspinal says it’s waiting to hear from Harrods and Selfridges, where it has concessions, before opening its stand-alone branches. Brora’s founder Victoria Stapleton is more forthright and aims to have some branches open by the end of that week – June 5. “We’re inclined to start with our shops in the North, as they’re a hardy bunch and very loyal. We’ll have hand sanitiser at the door and staff will keep a close eye on numbers.”
How will boutiques maintain social distancing?
Sobering pictures and an excoriating backlash in the US, where the crush in some branches of TJ Maxx should be a warning to retailers here that they need to take serious measures to protect their customers. Mango, the giant Spanish retail chain, has reopened all its branches on the Continent and is providing all customers and employees with sanitising gel and gloves, monitoring the number of customers in store and instructing staff to tell customers to maintain the recommended safety distance between people.
Will I have to make an appointment with my favourite store?
One long-term outcome of Covid-19 may be a more personalised approach to customer service, with less emphasis on the hard sell. At Me+Em, a favourite with many Telegraph readers (and staff), founder Clare Hornby says: “For those who can’t get to the stores, we’ll be offering personal styling appointments on Zoom from the store of their choice. Additionally, we’ll offer private appointments outside regular hours for customers wishing for them.” Carin Nakanishi, head of Couverture and the Garbstore in Notting Hill, west London, says they’ll be offering one-on-one shopping appointments as a way to control the number of people in store and hygiene standards.” This will cut footfall, but should increase sales. We may witness a return to a more leisurely, satisfying way of shopping we thought we’d lost forever.
Printed long dress, £49.99, Mango
How will changing rooms work?
In Mango’s reopened branches they’re alternating one open next to one closed to maintain safe distancing. At smaller boutiques such as Me+Em, Hornby says: “Stores will be sanitised more regularly and customers will also be offered a brand new mask.”
Read more: How trying on clothes will change
Floral dress, £300, Essentiel Antwerp
How will they sanitise clothes between try-ons?
Smaller businesses such as Couverture and the Garbstore and many other independent boutiques will steam‑clean clothes after they’ve been tried on. Essentiel Antwerp, which has reopened its continental branches, is keeping tried-on stock in a separate area for at least 24 hours before returning it to the shop floor, limiting customers to a maximum of 15 per store. Presumably everywhere, customers will be gently discouraged from indiscriminately trying on multiple items.
Will it be cashless?
Many shops will operate contactless payments only.
Lisa Armstrong‘s column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 7am on Telegraph Fashion.