Consumers warned that social distancing in shops may last up to a year

Retailers are warning that social distancing measures could be in place for as long as a year as vast swathes of the region’s shops reopen for the first time in weeks.
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Today marks the day when nonessential retail stores can officially open after being closed since March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post show that 60 per cent of stores in Leeds planned to open today, with similar numbers expected in Bradford.

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Strict social distancing protocols will need to be observed by all stores with shoppers are required to enter stores in fewer numbers, something one leading retail expert warned would put many independent outlets at risk of reduced revenues..

Retail to reopen from todayRetail to reopen from today
Retail to reopen from today

Research, carried out by the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, suggests that 41 per cent of retailers in the region expect social distancing will be required for the next six months with a further 43 per cent expecting this to continue for up to a year, something retail bosses warn will inevitably impact on revenues.

Mark Goldstone, head of policy at the chamber, said: “The latest research suggests that businesses are looking to take a ‘safety first’ approach to reopening with nearly three quarters planning to have measures in place for the safe movement of customers and the general public for at least the next three to 12 months.

“As we enter the recovery phase it is vital that businesses continue to follow official guidance and ensure that safe working practices are in place; in the meantime we are continuing to feed market intelligence back to local and central government to advise and guide future policy interventions in order to facilitate safe economic growth.”

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There are also concerns over demand, with shoppers being reluctant to brave the shops for fear of the virus or to travel on public transport in order to reach towns and cities.

Figures published today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that footfall decreased by 81.6 per cent in May, due to the mandatory lockdown.

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), told The Yorkshire Post that shops typically will need to take 70 per cent of the sales they were experiencing prior to Covid-19 simply to break even.

He said that nationally Bira expected 90 per cent of its members would reopen this week but remained concerned about the future.

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“Yes they are going to reopen but there is a lot of nervousness about future trading levels given social distancing and the shopping behaviours we have seen during the lockdown period.”

“You have got screens, you have got reorganisation of the shop floor to allow people to move around, you have got hand sanitizer everywhere - it is not without its challenges.”

He added: “Reopening is only the first step. We expect footfall to be lower. If you limit your capacity in your shop you limit your sales as well."

Mr Goodacre added that the Covid-19 outbreak could not have come at a worse time with independent retail having staged a “mini fightback” towards the end of last year with more stores opening than closing.

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“We all accepted that the numbers of shops will decline and Covid 19 has accelerated the change by about five years.”

Mr Goodacre also sounded a positive note about how lockdown had enforced consumers to shop more locally and that this presented an opportunity for local retail to thrive.

““Places like Headingley, Adel, Alwoodley etc have all got a bit busier and have probably done better than the city centre. Concerns over public transport etc has kept people local.

“They could thrive even more so.

“We want them to carry on. You can get 95 per cent of what you need locally.”

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Figures from the BRC supported this view with local retail having fared significantly better during lockdown than shopping centres and retail parks who saw declines in footfall of 85 and 55 per cent respectively.