Non-essential shops can reopen in Wales from Monday 22 June, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has announced.
This comes after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said shops can reopen in Scotland from one week later – Monday 29 June.
Shops reopened in Northern Ireland on Friday 12 June and England on Monday 15 June. The latest two announcements mean non-essential shopping will be permitted in every UK nation.
Only shops with outdoor entrances and exits can reopen to the public in Scotland, meaning non-essential stores in indoor shopping centres will remain closed.
Even though shops are reopening, the pandemic is far from over and shopping will look very different for a long time to come.
All shops will have to implement social distancing and safety measures to ensure they are COVID-19-secure. This could mean anything from implementing one-way systems to taking products off the shelves to ‘quarantine’ them if people touch them without buying.
Some 58% of the public are confident about returning to the shops in terms of their health and safety, while 38% are not, according to a Which? Survey of 2,002 UK adults conducted between 5 and 9 June.
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 reopen across the UK
- DIY stores reopen
- Garden centres now open everywhere
- What about pubs and restaurants?
- What social distancing measures are shops implementing?
- How can staff stay safe?
- Will coronavirus change shopping forever?
- Online shopping: how to stay safe
Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
Non-essential shops to reopen across UK
Although Wales and Scotland have now both announced reopening dates, not all retailers will open their doors as soon as they’re allowed. In England, many of those that are reopening have opted for a staggered approach, just opening a few branches at a time.
We might see a similar approach from retailers in Scotland and Wales, although lessons learned in England might allow them to act faster.
You can check if your local stores are open on retailers’ own websites or you can use ShopOpenings.com, a website set up by Mastercard to help you see which shops are in operation.
The site checks whether a Mastercard transaction has been made in the store in the past seven days to determine whether it’s open.
- Find out more: Which? reveals 2020’s best and worst high street shops
Listen: our experts discuss shops reopening in England on the Which? Money Podcast.
Which shops are already open in Scotland and Wales?
If you live in Scotland or Wales, shops will be open in either a couple of days or a couple of weeks. For now, only essential retailers are open.
Here is the full list of retail categories currently allowed to sell or operate from physical shops in Scotland and Wales:
- Agricultural supplies shops
- Bicycle shops
- Garden centres
- Hardware shops
- Homeware shops (Scotland only)
- Launderettes and dry cleaners
- Medical services (including dentists and opticians)
- Newsagents and corner shops
- Outdoor markets selling food
- Petrol stations
- Post Offices
- Storage facilities
- Supermarkets and other food shops
- Veterinary surgeries
- Vehicle rental services
DIY stores reopen
B&Q, Homebase and Wickes have all reopened their shops across the UK.
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: what are the best DIY stores?
Garden centres now open everywhere
Garden centres are now allowed to open throughout the UK provided strict social distancing measures are in place.
This is 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 cafés will remain closed or just sell takeaway items.
- Find out more: UK lagging behind on laws to protect against price gouging
What about pubs and restaurants?
Although non-essential retailers can now reopen in England and Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants remain closed throughout the UK.
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 the Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated this date at a press conference last week.
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.
There are rumours that the two-metre social distancing rules may be relaxed for pubs when they reopen. The Telegraph reports that guidance sent out to pubs simply refers to ‘wider spacing’ rather than a precise measurement.
How will shopping work with social distancing?
A recent Which? survey found that three in 10 people feel unsafe at the shops right now and shopping centre chain Intu says more than 60% of people would like shops to check temperatures at the entrance – a measure only Furniture Village and Apple stores have implemented so far, to our knowledge.
It’s crucial that retailers implement proper safety measures if they want to entice people back into their stores, and enabling and enforcing proper social distancing (staying two metres away from people who you don’t live with) will be key to this.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Usdaw, the retail workers’ union, have published guidelines for reopening shops, which include:
- 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 screens 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.
However, a new study has concluded that social distancing may be very difficult to implement for some retailers due to the amount of space customers will need in order to stay two metres from each other at all times.
Manchester Metropolitan and Cardiff Universities concluded that at least 10 square metres per shopper would be needed. Existing guidelines don’t actually specify how much space customers need, or exactly how many of them should be permitted, leading one expert to warn the The Guardian there could be a ‘race to the bottom’ as stores attempt to admit as many as they can.
- Find out more: will social distancing keep you safe at the shops?
What else might change?
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. Reiss is one store that has confirmed it will do this (see below).
Products may be placed in quarantine if customers handle them without buying them. Waterstones chief executive James Daunt has said touched but unbought books will be quarantined for at least three days.
In essence, you should expect to queue outside popular shops when they do reopen, touch as little as you can and strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines once you’re inside.
But some retailers are attempting to inject a little fun into the new normal: London department store Selfridges, for example, is planning to offer a ‘joyful experience’ to customers when it reopens, according to a Guardian report.
Ideas include personal after-hours shopping trips and entertainment for people queuing outside.
- Find out more: how to shop safely at the supermarket
How will store staff stay safe?
Social distancing measures are there to protect both shoppers and retail staff, whose work could put them at high risk of contracting 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.
Clothes shop Reiss says it will operate reduced trading hours to allow staff to avoid crammed public transport by travelling outside peak periods.
While many stores can now trade again, others will never reopen at all.
The coronavirus crisis has already seen several businesses – including Oasis and Warehouse – file for administration. Some, including Monsoon and Debenhams, have confirmed that they will only reopen some of their stores, keeping others shut for good. As the pandemic continues, more could announce similar measures.
In April, the British Independent Retailers Association said that one in five of its members weren’t planning to reopen once lockdown measures are relaxed.
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.
- Find out more: coronavirus, shopping and your consumer rights
Online shopping as an alternative
Online shopping has been a lifeline to many during lockdown. In fact, a survey by YouGov found that only 10% of respondents hadn’t bought anything online since lockdown began.
Many shoppers, through preference or necessity, may want to continue shopping mostly online even when shops have reopened. 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.