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3 Jun 2021

Shoppers feel safe on the high street as hairdressers remain in high demand

But some are staying home, with mask-wearing still not universal
Shoppers on the high street wearing masks.

Previously lonely high streets have been bustling once again since non-essential shops reopened in April. But how have our shopping habits changed since lockdown?

It's no secret that online shopping thrived while bricks-and-mortar stores were closed. But while some of us have been back into town since non-essential retail reopened, many are still browsing websites instead of stores, according to new Which? research.

Here, we reveal the most popular types of shops for people to have visited since retail reopened, and whether shoppers and staff are observing social distancing rules.

Hairdressers and card shops in high demand

With the nation living an extended 'bad hair day' during lockdown, it'll come as no surprise to learn that many of the shoppers we surveyed rushed straight to hairdressers and beauty salons when non-essential retail returned.

But not everyone went back to the high street in a hurry. When we surveyed 1,246 Which? members between 5 and 11 May, more than a quarter (28%) were yet to visit a non-essential shop, even though they'd been open for more than two weeks in England at the time.

Of those that had hit the shops, nearly two in five (38%) had been to a hairdresser or beauty salon, making this the most popular kind of high street destination.

The next most popular non-essential stores were, in order: stationery, card and gift shops (20%), clothing and accessory stores (15%), and department stores (14%).

Nearly a third (30%) also visited DIY stores, though some of these were open throughout lockdown as they were classed as essential retailers in England.

Do people feel safe in the shops?

The overwhelming majority of shoppers we surveyed felt safe while they were in non-essential stores. Every category of shop received more than 80% 'somewhat safe' or 'very safe' ratings from shoppers.

In contrast, when we ran a similar survey a year ago, three in 10 Which? members saidthey felt unsafe in stores. It's worth noting that at the time, non-essential retail had not yet reopened and, though it might seem like we've been wearing them for years, face mask usage was not encouraged or enforced in the way it is now.

Shoppers likely feel safer this year for a range of reasons, including vaccines, increased social distancing measures, and a familiarity with living through a pandemic.

Still, that doesn't mean everyone is following the rules. In our latest survey, half of shoppers (49%) reported seeing customers breaking the two-metre rule while indoors.

A quarter (23%) saw fellow shoppers not wearing masks - but of course, some people are exempt from having to wear one.

Meanwhile, a quarter of shoppers (26%) also saw staff breaking the two-metre rule, though only one in 10 saw staff not wearing masks.

Some shoppers sticking to the web

Millions turned to the internet for their non-essential shopping needs while physical stores were closed. And, in bad news for the high street, many haven't looked back.

More than one in five (22%) of those we surveyed said they'd continued shopping online for all the goods they would have bought in store before lockdown.

Half of shoppers (48%) said they'd kept shopping online for some goods, while just three in 10 had switched back to the high street for everything.

Has supermarket shopping changed too?

Throughout the pandemic, people have been more likely than they were to do big weekly shops at supermarkets, as opposed to more frequent shops for a few items at a time.

Now, basket sizes are shrinking, with customers' average spend per trip falling to its lowest since March 2020 according to data from retail analyst Kantar.

Supermarket sales are still significantly higher than before the pandemic though, with £3.8bn more running through tills in the 12 weeks to 16 May 2021 than the equivalent period in 2019.

Shoppers are also buying more products relating to their personal appearance, such as shoe polish (up 50% in the four weeks to 16 May) and hairstyling products (up 26%) as socialising has returned. Ready meals and cooked poultry sales are also up (by 20% and 28%, respectively) as people find themselves more pressed for time.