After more than three months of enforced shutdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential stores in England reopen their doors on Monday, hoping the escape from lockdown will fuel a trading boom.
Industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium, estimates British stores have lost £27-billion ($46.4-billion) in sales over three lockdowns, while 67,000 retail jobs were shed in 2020 alone.
About 17,532 chain store outlets vanished from high streets, shopping centres and retail parks across Britain last year, according to data compiled by researcher the Local Data Co. Ltd. for accountancy firm PwC.
But with more than half of Britain’s adult population having received at least one of the vaccine’s two doses, analysts do not think shoppers will hold back.
Market researcher Kantar is forecasting consumers will spend £3.9-billion on the high street in the first week of reopening.
“There was definitely a bounce at the end of the lockdown last year [in June], I would be surprised if the same thing didn’t happen again,” Simon Wolfson, chief executive officer of fashion retailer Next, told Reuters.
Many shopping areas will look very different from their prepandemic state. A raft of chains, including fashion retailers Topshop, Topman, Burton, Oasis and Laura Ashley, which had been fixtures for decades, will not be there – high-profile casualties of a crisis that has hammered the sector.
Eight John Lewis department stores will not reopen and Debenhams stores will only reopen to hold final closing sales.
England’s non-essential stores have been closed since Jan. 4, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third lockdown to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Non-essential retail will also reopen in Wales on Monday, although Scotland’s shops will have to wait until at least April 26. Northern Ireland does not have a date yet.
Getting shoppers spending again is key to Britain’s recovery after official data last month showed 2020 was the worst year for its economy in more than three centuries.
Analysts reckon the customer bounceback could be more pronounced than the one last June.
“Lockdowns clearly improve the average family P&L, and many will be thinking that they won’t be going on an overseas holiday this year. Shoppers have money to spend, and most people haven’t shopped fashion for nearly two years,” analysts at Peel Hunt said.
Roger Whiteside, CEO of baker Greggs, says the sector will benefit from pent-up demand.
While Greggs stores were allowed to trade through the latest lockdown, he is hoping for a boost to high street footfall from the relaxation in restrictions.
“There’ll be queues outside the shops that people can’t access easily online, so Primark’s a good example,” he said.
To help the sector cope with the challenge of physical-distancing regulations, which are scheduled to remain in place until June 21, the government is allowing extended opening hours. It said last month that shops can open until 10 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.
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