Non-essential shops can reopen in England from 15 June if they meet guidelines to protect staff and shoppers, the Prime Minister has announced.
All shops in England, regardless of what they sell, will be able to open with social distancing measures in place from the middle of next month. Car showrooms and outdoor markets can reopen from 1 June.
All of this is conditional on the government’s five tests for easing lockdown being met by these dates.
Following the government tweaking its definition of ‘essential’ retailers to include homeware stores, some Dunelm, DFS and Furniture Village stores have already reopened. Ikea is opening soon too.
Retailers have also been working on plans to enable social distancing and reduce the chances of coronavirus transmission via clothing and other items that are on sale in their stores.
Kurt Geiger is planning to quarantine shoes for 24 hours after being tried on, and Waterstones will take books off the shop floor for three days if they are touched by someone who doesn’t buy them. Retailers have been advised to keep returned items aside rather than putting them straight back onto display.
Here, Which? explores the rules around shops reopening, what shopping will look like in our new version of ‘normal’, and how customers and retail staff can stay safe in shops during the coronavirus pandemic.
In this article:
- Non-essential shops to reopen in June
- Furniture stores reopen in England and Northern Ireland
- DIY stores reopen across the UK
- Garden centres now open everywhere but Scotland
- Which shops are allowed to open at the minute?
- What about pubs and restaurants?
- When will clothes shops reopen?
- Can I still try on clothes?
- What social distancing measures are shops implementing?
- How can staff stay safe?
- Will coronavirus change shopping forever?
- Online shopping in the meantime
Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
The Prime Minister announced on Monday 25 May that all non-essential retailers in England will be allowed to open for business with social distancing in place from 15 June, provided the government’s tests for easing lockdown are met.
This will mean high street shops, shopping centres and department stores potentially opening their doors again.
The government says it is publishing updated ‘COVID-secure’ guidelines to help keep staff and shoppers safe, and that shops will only be given the green light to serve customers after a risk assessment.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: ‘Safety is the fundamental concern for all retailers and they have been working hard to implement the necessary measures to operate safely over the past weeks.
‘Now that we know which shops can open and when, retailers can begin communicating their plans with their workforces and customers.’
Many retailers have begun to announce which stores they’re reopening and when.
Debenhams has negotiated a deal with its landlords allowing it to reopen most of its 142 UK stores in June, despite falling into administration.
John Lewis is planning a phased reopening of its department stores, starting with two in Poole and Kingston on 15 June. A further 11 will follow on 18 June.
Next is set to reopen 25 stores on 15 June, beginning with its larger stores that can most easily allow social distancing.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said non-essential shops will stay closed for at least three more weeks, but no reopening date has been announced.
The BBC reports that big discounts will be on offer when stores do reopen, with retailers desperate to shift stock that’s been sitting there since lockdown began in March.
The government’s definition of what counts as ‘essential’ retail in England was tweaked slightly on 13 May to include homeware stores, as opposed to the more ambiguous ‘home’ stores that had been allowed before.
Since then, Dunelm has opened 39 stores in England, with social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
Furniture Village opened its entire network of 52 branches, all of which are in England, on Saturday 23 May. Safety measures including hand sanitisers, directional markers, and temperature checks upon entry are all in place.
Matalan has reopened 15 ‘spacious’ stores in England with large homeware departments. Social distancing will be in place and staff will be given PPE, according to Drapers. ScS has reopened 80 stores, also in England.
DFS reopened its Bolton, Leicester and Milton Keynes branches on Friday 22 May. Further stores are due to open from 29 May. The retailer says it has implemented ‘strict social distancing’ including hand sanitiser stations, limits on customer numbers and daily temperature checks for employees.
Fellow furniture retailer Ikea is set to follow suit, opening 19 stores in England and Northern Ireland from 1 June.
The Swedish chain is asking customers to shop alone where they can. There will also be hand-sanitiser stations, protective screens and additional cleaning. Cash payments will not be accepted, and the stores’ restaurants and play areas will remain closed.
The Scottish and Welsh governments’ guidance does not currently allow for homeware stores to open.
- Find out more: best and worst sofa shops
DIY retailer Wickes has now joined B&Q and Homebase in reopening all of its UK branches.
DIY stores were never actually forced to close; they were always on the government’s list of ‘essential’ retailers which are allowed to stay open during lockdown.
However, the big chains took the decision to close their doors until they felt able to operate safely and ensure social distancing in their stores.
- Find out more: DIY shopping during lockdown
Garden centres are now allowed to open in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland provided strict social distancing measures are in place.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced yesterday that garden centres will be allowed to reopen from today (Friday 28 May).
This will come as a huge relief to the industry and garden enthusiasts alike, following warnings at the start of lockdown that millions of plants would have to be binned if they couldn’t be sold.
Shoppers need to stay at least two metres apart from staff and other customers at all times. Garden centre cafes will remain closed or just sell takeaway items.
- Bicycle shops
- Car rentals
- DIY stores
- Dry cleaners
- Food shops, including delivery outlets and takeaways
- Garden centres
- Health shops
- Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores
- Market stalls selling food and groceries
- Pet shops and vets
- Petrol stations
- Post Offices
Despite qualifying as an essential retailer, Poundland closed 100 of its stores in March. Some 77 of these stores have since been reopened.
Though non-essential retailers can conditionally reopen in England from 15 June, pubs and restaurants will remain closed.
The government’s initial plan for easing lockdown in England said pubs could reopen from 4 July at the earliest, provided the virus is under control. And some businesses are already talking publicly about how they might begin to start operating again.
JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin says the chain is spending £11m on COVID-19 safety measures to ensure its pubs can open this summer.
These include gloves, masks and – perhaps uniquely – goggles for staff, protective screens between tables and employee health checks. Staff will also be told to hold glasses at the base.
Clothes shops in England will be able to reopen on 15 June, but not all will do so the minute they’re allowed to.
John Lewis will open just two stores on 15 June, with more following a few days later.
Chairperson Sharon White suggested that some of the chain’s department stores might not reopen at all after lockdown ends, according to The Guardian. She added that it could take up to six weeks from when the government lifts lockdown for some John Lewis department stores to start preparing to reopen.
Next is planning to open 25 of its larger stores on 15 June. The retailer expects that it will ‘take some time’ before customers return to normal shopping habits, with ‘very subdued’ sales likely at first.
- Find out more: what are the best clothes shops and websites?
The government and trade bodies have advised shops to keep changing rooms closed at first.
However, retailers are working on plans to enable people to try clothes on safely once the guidelines are relaxed.
Footwear specialist Kurt Geiger has said shoes that have been tried on will go into 24-hour quarantine before another customer can try them on. It will also ask customers to wear disposable socks when trying on shoes.
The Telegraph reports that John Lewis is considering either quarantining or steam-cleaning clothes that customers have tried on and not bought, as well as items that have been returned.
Similar systems are in place in countries where shops are already reopening: department stores in Canada, France and Italy have said they’re quarantining and steaming tried-on garments, as well as sanitising fitting rooms between customers.
Other measures being implemented around the world and considered here in the UK include only opening every other changing room and even using UV lighting to kill viruses.
And men’s tailor Suitsupply is using perspex partitions to enable safe fitting and alterations, according to The Telegraph.
- Find out more: the UK’s best and worst high street stores
Social distancing (staying two metres away from people who you don’t live with) is already being practised in shops that are open.
All shops reopening will also be expected to implement social distancing measures. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Usdaw – the retail workers’ union – have published guidelines for reopening shops.
- Limiting the number of customers in stores
- Considering installing temporary barriers
- Clear signage to explain social distancing measures inside and outside the store
- Markings inside and outside of stores to indicate correct queue distancing
- Encouraging shoppers to shop alone where possible
- Installing cleaning stations
- Considering one-way systems
- Encouraging cashless purchases
- Installing panels to protect staff at tills.
There are also more specific guidelines that apply only to certain types of shop, such as rotating display stock and limiting product demonstrations in tech stores.
Products may be placed in quarantine if customers handle them without buying them. Waterstones CEO James Daunt has said touched but unbought books will be quarantined for at least three days.
Perhaps the strictest social distancing measures have come from Halfords, which has had stores open throughout lockdown with a ‘serve at the door’ model. This has seen customers telling staff what they want to buy, and staff heading into the shop to get it off the shelves for them.
The bike retailer does now plan to reopen 53 stores to customers with more usual social distancing in place.
Supermarkets and pharmacies have changed their opening hours to enable more time for restocking and picking online orders, so it’s possible the high street’s old opening and closing times could also see a change.
In essence, you should expect to queue outside popular shops when they do reopen, and following social distancing guidelines once you’re inside will be crucial.
- Find out more: how to shop safely at the supermarket
Social distancing measures are there to protect both shoppers and retail staff, whose work could put them at high risk of catching coronavirus if appropriate steps are not taken.
The perspex screens seen in supermarkets will likely become the norm, and don’t be surprised to see staff wearing masks or other protective equipment wherever you shop.
Some retailers have been accused of not implementing social distancing measures properly, leaving staff ‘terrified’.
Wilko says it is doing ‘everything possible to protect team members and customers’, and The Range says it’s ‘tightly adhering to all social distancing government guidance’.
Unions and trade bodies are clear that retailers will have to treat employee safety as a priority when shops reopen.
Helen Dickinson of the BRC said: ‘The last few weeks have provided many retailers with invaluable experience of operating in line with government and Public Health England guidance, protecting consumers and staff, and these lessons will be shared with other parts of the industry to facilitate safe reopening of stores once government is ready to move to the next phase.
‘We are confident that with continued close collaboration with government, the industry can get the majority of operations up and running again safely.’
We now know that all shops are allowed to reopen from mid-June, but some stores will never reopen at all.
The coronavirus crisis has already seen several businesses – including Debenhams, Oasis and Warehouse – file for administration. As the pandemic continues, more could follow suit.
The British Independent Retailers Association says that one in five of its members don’t plan to reopen once lockdown measures are relaxed, and the Centre for Retail Research has predicted that more than 20,000 stores will close by the end of the year.
Some chains whose high street arms have fallen are planning to keep trading online. Other shops are considering changing their business models to survive.
For example, The Times reported that John Lewis is considering a renewed focus on services rather than retail in the future. However, the retailer has since revealed that it is planning a phased reopening of some of its department stores.
- Find out more: coronavirus, shopping and your consumer rights
While the high street remains mostly closed, shopping online continues to be a popular alternative. In fact, in a recent survey by YouGov, only 10% of respondents said they hadn’t bought anything online since lockdown began.
But it’s just as important to stay safe when shopping online as it is in store.
Make sure you buy from a reputable seller and look out for fake reviews.
It’s also worth checking the estimated delivery times and retailer returns policy – many have changed their usual rules to accommodate lockdown restrictions, but you might find you’ll have to wait a long time for your order to arrive and be expected to return it quicker than is ideal.
If you have questions or concerns about online shopping under lockdown, read our five tips for shopping online safely.
And to find out how some of the biggest retailers are responding to the crisis, check out our story on coronavirus returns policies.
- Find out more: best and worst shopping websites
This story was originally published on 7 May and has been updated since to reflect the current situation. Additional reporting by Ele Clark.