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What will the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic be on retail businesses in the UK?

What will the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic be on retail businesses in the UK?

As a company that specialises in retail merchandising, it’s fair to say we’ve been closely affected by the pandemic. Even if the stores we were working on were allowed to remain open, merchandising was in many cases put on hold to minimise human movement and contact. 

As you’d expect, we’ve been paying very close attention to the trajectory of retail. Here are some preliminary thoughts about how things are looking in the medium and long term.

This is not over yet

At the time of writing, late May 2021, the shops are largely open, as are pubs and restaurants, and the “non-essential” rules are being cautiously lifted. The majority of older people have had one or two jabs, and vaccines are being offered to people over 32.

However, a new variant, B.1.617.2, has arrived that seems to spread more easily than previous variants. It has put much of retail into limbo, as the threat of further restrictions, possibly with little notice, can make many sellers pause before ordering stock, and that reverberates down the manufacture and supply chain, which can in turn lead to shortages when stores reopen. 

Although preliminary data about vaccine effectiveness is promising, we don’t know if further mutations will escape the vaccine. And with multiple variants still at large around the world, things could change very quickly. Paying close attention to the news, particularly new strains emerging in other countries, is crucial to forward planning.

We’re better at distancing

At the start of the pandemic, some planners doubted that the population would put up with as much as five weeks of restrictions, which seems wildly pessimistic now. People have generally complied, and retail businesses have risen to the occasion when it comes to minimising human contact.

There’s no reason to see shields, masks and sanitiser stations disappearing anytime soon. Even if the nation does get fully in control of the pandemic in its current state, there will probably be a period where some form of distancing continues just to keep a lid on it, and to mitigate local outbreaks of new variants, which are all but inevitable.

There’s a real taste to get out

While people have adjusted to the new lifestyle in some ways, there’s a palpable urge to return to normality. Meeting friends and family is the number one priority, but just doing everyday things like eating out and going to the shops without masking up all feature very highly in people’s everyday wishes.

Those who have got used to online shopping are longing for the days when they can try on a pair of shoes before buying them, or just spend a whole day browsing the shops with friends and rounding it off with a meal and a drink. Shopping as entertainment is often overlooked, and after a year of only shopping for essentials, the fashion and lifestyle stores are expecting a mini-boom.

Many customers have saved money

A final thing to mention is that economic hardship hasn’t hit the country equally. There are hundreds of thousands of high earners who have either carried on with work regardless or have had generous furlough packages.

But the things high-earners would normally have spent their money on – holidays, meals, fashion, entertainment – have been off limits. There are millions sitting in bank accounts waiting to be spent. The travel industry is already reporting that more people are booking into 5-star hotels and using first class travel than before. 

A similar thing could well happen to luxury retail, but retail in general is expected to benefit when the cash starts flowing again.

Get post-covid ready

We’re up and running and servicing our retail clients again, and it’s truly great to see our clients looking optimistic again. As the world cautiously emerges from the shock of the past two years, it’s going to be a particularly competitive and challenging time for retailers. 

That’s why you shouldn’t leave anything to chance with your merchandising. Put simply, we can ensure your merchandising makes your stores stand out from the crowd. It’s time to talk.