Normally, spring is the time of year when fashion fans head to the shops to update their wardrobes with the latest warm weather styles.
However, in recent weeks typical shopping habits have been thrown out the window due to the coronavirus lockdown, which has seen people stuck at home and all shops deemed to be non-essential forced to close.
Drapers reported in-store sales have dropped 84 per cent compared to 2019, and – despite online grocery sales surging – for the rest of the retail landscape things look bleak.
On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced that restrictions as part of England’s lockdown will begin to ease in the coming weeks with updated guidelines on travelling to work, exercise and meeting family and friends.
But what do the new rules mean when it comes to shopping?
The Independent has spoken to a number of retailers including Arcadia – which owns stores such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton – and Next regarding the next steps, with all confirming that they are currently in the process of working on plans and further guidance for the government.
As the country nears the end of the shuttering of high street stores, businesses and consumers alike are debating what the coronavirus will mean for the future of fashion retail.
Here is everything you need to know about how coronavirus might alter the shopping landscape, from when you can expect stores to reopen to how people’s spending habits have changed.
When will clothes shops reopen in England?
During his speech, Mr Johnson stated that some shops in England may start to reopen as early as June as part of a phased easing of lockdown restrictions. However, this will only take place if the science shows that infections and the reproduction rate of the disease – the R – remain low.
“In step two – at the earliest by 1 June, after half term – we believe we may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of shops and to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6,” he said.
The prime minister’s comments were later clarified with the release of a 60-page document titled Our Plan to Rebuild, which provided a more detailed breakdown of the new rules.
The government state that non-essential retail could reopen from 1 June, at the earliest, subject to those retailers being able to follow the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines.
“The intention is for this to happen in phases from 1 June; the government will issue further guidance shortly on the approach that will be taken to phasing, including which businesses will be covered in each phase and the time frames involved,” the document reads.
What about the rest of the UK?
The leaders of the four nations of the UK are currently choosing different ways to ease the coronavirus restrictions, with first ministers Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster all rejecting Mr Johnson’s new “stay alert” slogan.
Instead, they have opted to retain the original “stay at home” message, while lifting selected parts of the lockdown at their own pace.
The devolved nations have not yet provided dates for when they expect non-essential businesses to reopen.
What safety measures will retailers have to take?
Before non-essential retailers can begin to reopen, businesses will need to seek guidance from the government on how to go about doing so safely.
Supermarkets and pharmacies can provide a glimpse into how shopping might look post-lockdown, with spaced-out queues, physical screens at till points, controlled entrances and contactless payments.
The government has provided some guidance for people who work in or run shops, in which it states that the number of customers allowed in store will need to be limited and that shops should consider implementing one-way flow systems and queue management.
“Shopping centres should take responsibility for regulating the number of customers in the centre and the queueing process in communal areas on behalf of their retail tenants,” the guidance states.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and shop workers’ union Usdaw have also drawn up a series of recommendations in readiness for the easing of the lockdown with the suggestion of closing or limiting access to changing rooms, employing security guards to manage entrances and encouraging customers to pay by card.
The document also recommends that shops install cleaning stations to provide hand sanitiser where possible.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said: “Retailers are closely following developments from government on when restrictions might be eased and are starting to plan accordingly. The safety and wellbeing of colleagues and customers remains the highest priority and these guidelines aim to support everyone in the industry.
“Since the lockdown many retailers have proved how shops can be run safely and effectively in line with the government’s social-distancing advice. This guidance is the product of retail’s incredible efforts to adapt to exceptional circumstances.”
Speaking to The Independent, Professor Joshua Bamfield, director at the Centre for Retail Research, said that he believes fashion retailers will reopen in two phases.
“In stage one there will be rigorous social distancing, which will also mean no trying on of clothes and a problem about ‘returns’. Shopping for clothes won’t be as friendly and casual as it has often been in the past,” he explains, adding that chains with large units like Marks & Spencer and department stores might have an advantage because of their large floor areas and the fact people can retaining social distancing while shopping.
Bamfield predicts thatt stafe two will take place towards the end of 2020, when social distancing rules will be “gradually dismantled by the government and shopping becomes more normal”.
“Retailers have to manage the process of keeping shoppers and staff safe and selling merchandise and there may be a creeping liberalisation (eg allowing more people into stores at a time) as Autumn winds on,” he says. “But it is going to be really difficult for everyone large and small, out-of-town megastore or small gents’ outfitters. The rules as now set out will make shopping for clothes no fun at all.”
How has the lockdown affected people’s shopping habits?
A recent survey of nearly 3,000 people conducted by YouGov found that, unsurprisingly, groceries have become the most common online lockdown purchase among British households (40 per cent).
However, despite two months of the nation staying in, clothes and beauty products come second at 29 per cent. This figure is especially high among younger people, with nearly two in five 18 to 34-year-olds having bought fashion or beauty products while in lockdown.
A separate study by Nationwide Building Society found that nearly two-thirds (6 per cent) of people said their spending habits have changed with around a third (32 per cent) stating that the pandemic has made them more mindful of their purchases.
Craig Summers, managing director at supply chain commerce solutions firm Manhattan Associates, said that this trend for online shopping is likely to continue post-lockdown.
“Many consumers are likely to still be cautious of entering stores even after lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the surge in e-commerce orders is unlikely to disappear anytime soon,” he said.