New Rules: What can we expect as the new normal when shopping in stores?

As seen on Fashion Roundtable.

With much of our economy shut down to slow the spread of Covid-19, retail sales in the UK are understandably at an all-time low. During the pandemic, our economy has witnessed an estimated monthly decline between February and March of around 5.8%– larger than anything previously recorded. According to a report by PWC, retail sales have been hit very hard with 4.3% of stores reporting a zero turnover in April. Yesterday saw retailers re-opening across England, with the government issuing all businesses with guidance and framework on how to safely operate. So, what can we expect as the new normal when shopping?

·     As with supermarkets, queueing outside stores with 2m social distancing should be anticipated as stores will be limiting the number of entrances customers can access and there’ll be a restriction on the number of customers allowed in store at any given time.

·     Hand sanitisers should be readily available throughout the store and particularly at all entrance points.  

·     Brands such as Marks and Spencer’s will have social distance markers placed on the floor and a closure on fitting rooms, for now. 

·     ‘No contact’ returns will be set up with specific drop-off points in stores and a 72-hour holding room before the returns are placed back on the shop floor. 

·     If items are handled by customers there could also be a rotation of high-touch stock. 

·     Till points are encouraged to have Perspex screens to protect staff and customers, and payment via contactless credit card will be encouraged. 

While I can appreciate the necessity of these restrictions to limit how we browse, try-on and pay for items, I can’t help but wonder whether this may have a negative effect on consumer spending. Shopping for many of us is a form of escapism and by nature, we’re habitually quite tactile – without being able to touch or try items on, will we opt for ‘click and collect’ or perhaps a virtual experience instead? And does this point to the fact that we’re re-opening again too soon, with around 1,266 new cases daily still being identified across the UK? 

In the retail sector alone, there are just over 1.6m staff in high street and consumer-facing jobs currently on furlough with the government already paying out an estimated £3.3bn in wages. These customer-facing employees are also classed as high-risk and so the return to work could be quite a perturbing time for some. With the concern of what happens at the end of furlough and a material drop in income, we could also see a rise in precautionary saving as consumers are left without the usual amount of disposable income for shopping. On the other hand, PWC suggests that for those who have remained employed, constrained expenditure due to lockdown could see a boost in consumer spending.

Here at Fashion Roundtable we’ve spent the last few months discussing the ‘new normal’ and what this will look like once lockdown restrictions are eased, and beyond. It’s my hope, that we will have used our time to assess what we as consumers will now come to expect from brands moving forward and we’ll be far more focused on supporting small and local businesses post-lockdown. 

The fashion industry in particular, has always moved at an alarming rate and promisingly, this weekend saw the official opening of digital London Fashion Week which signals the attempt to follow not only government guidelines and precautions but also a direct response to conversations about adopting a slower pace within the fashion industry in general. It’s my hope that this new pace will cause fashion brands and designers to follow suit.

During the pandemic, it’s been evident that smaller businesses do have an advantage of being able to pivot much faster with less red tape and adapt to the ever-changing government guidelines. One company to nail this has been retail distributor, Lone Design Club (LDC), who are leading the charge for independent designers and the evolution of the high street as we know it. LDC is set to launch 6 ‘Phygital’ stores in total across London, all with shoppable windows with social distancing markers outside. LDC will bring together a carefully curated collection showcasing the best from their independent designers across the fashion, beauty and lifestyle sector. This fully interactive experience will allow consumers to support local and small business directly from the shop front 24/7. Customers will also be able to sign-up to a wealth of events and activities via the LDC Digital Web Store, which includes 1-to-1 personal shopping experiences, workshops, beauty events and tutorials. Lone Design Club CEO Rebecca Morter suggests this will “create a powerhouse formula, which adds excitement to our short-term, immersive retail experiences with the focus on storytelling, sustainability and ethics whilst pushing the boundaries of creativity. Here comes the new normal.”