As many of us remain in the clutches of lockdown, it is still too early to call how the long-term effects of store closures and their subsequent re-openings will affect small and independent businesses. Across Europe in particular, brands are taking the first steps to re-opening in the face of a ‘new normal’, with each country following its own set of regulations. As England is set to begin to re-open all non-essential stores from June 15th, what steps are other countries looking to take, and what are the initial results?
Germany can tell us the most about how consumers are reacting and behaving in a post-lockdown situation, with all restrictions on shops being lifted from May 6th. Even as Europe’s largest economy, they are already faring better than many of their other geographical neighbours as their drop in retail sales did not fall as far as expected for the month of April. Despite sales falling at their fastest pace since 2007, the ending statistic of 5.3% proved to be a much better reading than the forecasted 12%. This could largely be attributed to the fact that Germany has maintained some of the strictest lockdown enforcements throughout the entire continent, possibly prompting a greater confidence in their general consumer base. France looks set to follow in Germany’s footsteps, with shops re-opening from May 11th and all public commuters being required to wear masks. Elsewhere, many countries have gradually eased out the opening of their non-essential stores over the course of May with an aim of de-escalating lockdown measures. The example with the most current clarity is Spain, where plans are entirely dependent on the wider ongoing progress across regions, with more rural areas typically moving at a slower pace than the larger cities.
Wales and Scotland are also operating against different criteria, with Scotland sticking to their five-stage road map while Wales take a ‘traffic light’ approach – red must include click-and-collect for non-essential retail, amber enabling shoppers to have access to most non-essential retail with appropriate distancing and green allowing full access. Despite these different paths, we are still all working towards the same goal across Europe and beyond – to get our physical retail space back up and thriving. There is still a certain protocol all brands can follow to ensure maximum levels of safety are upheld at all times. Reviewing store layouts with the introduction of barriers, back-to-back working and staggered arrival and departure times are a starting point, with one-way flow systems, limited meetings and reduction movement helping to backing your efforts up. In terms of customer management, defining the number of customers that can reasonably adhere to the two metre rules, maintaining one entry point and using outside space where possible could also help to ease distancing stress and confusion where possible.