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Editor's Viewpoint

It's shopping, but not as we know it: How Northern Ireland retailers can help economic recovery after coronavirus lockdown

Editor's Viewpoint


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It's shopping, but not as we know it: that is the clear message from retail experts as the prospect of stores reopening next month has been raised, with the UK Government setting a date of June 15 which may be followed in the province. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

It's shopping, but not as we know it: that is the clear message from retail experts as the prospect of stores reopening next month has been raised, with the UK Government setting a date of June 15 which may be followed in the province. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Philip Magowan / PressEye

It's shopping, but not as we know it: that is the clear message from retail experts as the prospect of stores reopening next month has been raised, with the UK Government setting a date of June 15 which may be followed in the province. Photo by Philip Magowan / Press Eye

It's shopping, but not as we know it: that is the clear message from retail experts as the prospect of stores reopening next month has been raised, with the UK Government setting a date of June 15 which may be followed in the province.

Queueing to get into shops, maintaining social distance inside, all toilets and changing facilities closed as will in-store cafes, and limits on the number of customers allowed in at any one time - that is the shape of things to come, certainly in the first instance.

Written down it doesn't seem a huge deal, but shopping is not merely a purchasing mission, it is an experience for many people. The idea that people will be encouraged to shop alone, for example, runs against the very ethos of that experience. Mothers and daughters enjoy rummaging through the racks together. It is men in the main who are single-purposed in their shopping, knowing what they want to buy, purchasing it and then leaving.

Of course, the measures which the experts say will be implemented are necessary for protection of health, and also to give shoppers the confidence to return to the high street after months of lockdown. During that period most people have turned to online shopping - up well over 100% in sales - and that is another hurdle for traditional retailers to overcome.

The closure of toilets and baby changing facilities in big department stores in towns and cities will be a major disincentive to many people to go shopping there, given that there are few, if any, appropriate public alternatives available.

It is clear that customer loyalty cannot be relied upon as the world returns to some semblance of normality, and that retailers will have to be innovative to attract people through their doors. As the experts point out, small independent retailers can be more agile in changing course, unlike the behemoths of the national chains.

The high street was already under severe pressure before coronavirus struck, as was evidenced by the many boarded-up premises across the province, and this pandemic has struck a harder blow than any previous economic shock.

It is vital the retailers become open for business as soon as it is safe to do so as they are vital pieces in the economic jigsaw, bringing people into town and city centres and paving the way for cafes, restaurants and pubs to eventually open, if the footfall is sufficiently encouraging.

Belfast Telegraph