24 June 2020

Reflecting on reopening

No-one, not even the most prescient analyst, could have forecast at the beginning of the year that Monday 15 June would be one of the most significant and unifying dates in the 2020 retail calendar.

Yet so it was. After a 3-month hiatus and in the glare of the media spotlight, non-essential retail stores reopened just over a week ago.

It looked different, but in ways that are already familiar: snaking queues and customer limits, one-way systems and distancing measures, perspex screens and contactless payments, sanitising stations and frequent cleaning regimes. Supermarkets have proved a valuable testing ground for both retailers and customers; we all know what to expect now. However, where supermarkets implemented their response on the fly – all handwritten signs and hazard tape floor markings – the June reopening has been more considered, with neat creative and cheery welcome back campaigns.

The footfall figures for the week paint a cheery picture, too. Multiple surveys through lockdown have suggested that consumers are anxious about returning to bricks and mortar retail, however much they might want to . As late as the week before reopening, a YouGov survey suggested 39% felt it was too soon[1]; research from Springboard published around the same time found that 32% were nervous about shopping again, and just 14% excited[2]. Yet when the moment came, shoppers returned in their thousands. UK footfall rose 45% on the previous week – quite the increase considering it includes shopper behaviour in Wales and Scotland, where non-essential retail stores are yet to reopen. Although the West End of London experienced a smaller upturn, the scenes outside Nike Town made headline news. The year-on-year comparison remains stark, but week one certainly suggests a step in the right direction

The experiences of two of our clients give further cause for optimism. The Boulevard, an outlet shopping centre in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, partially reopened on Monday 8 June. By the end of w/c 15 June 60% of their stores were reopen, and year-on-year footfall had surged back to 80%. They have implemented queuing and distancing measures with real panache, which has been a big hit with returning shoppers.

“Lovely shopping experience – can’t wait for all shops to open!” “What a bloody marvellous job you have done… Well done!” “I felt like I was on holiday! I was very impressed with all your considered, creative signage and changes.”

-The Boulevard customer feedback

Docks Bruxsel, a shopping centre in Brussels and another client of BWP, is several weeks into its reopening journey. Footfall in the first week hit 63% compared with 2019; remarkably, by week five, this had risen to 102% – an astonishing performance given where we were a couple of months ago.

Back in the UK the weather forecast is good, and the case for reducing social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre is gathering momentum. Aside from rendering an enormous amount of signage immediately obsolete (but keeping design, print and installation teams busy), this is good news for retailers and the beleaguered hospitality sector. There is a long way to go before we return to anything like normality, but reopening week has given us reasons to be cheerful.

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/consumer/articles-reports/2020/06/14/will-britons-flock-back-high-street-retail

[2] Springboard, RE-OPENING UK RETAIL POST COVID-19: An analysis of shopper concerns and preferences.

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