The potential reopening of Primark in particular, however, is causing both staff and members of the public some concern. It’s no secret that shopping at Primark can be emotionally and physically harrowing at the best of times, and quite how the discount fashion chain will successfully implement social distancing is very much up for debate. There are plans for one way shopping routes around stores, although changing rooms will probably remain closed. The same issues apply to all kinds of shops of course, but Primark has become the focal point of the issue due to its huge popularity.
The reality is however, that the high street is in desperate need of a boost. Even before the pandemic hit, the retail sector was struggling. Many shops, especially smaller independent businesses, have been struggling to stay afloat in the perfect storm of Brexit vagueness and an increasing preference for online shopping.
Furthermore, Fashion Network reports that according to research, many of us are steering away from ‘fast fashion’, and becoming more interested in sustainable brands and long-lasting, quality items.
Just over 30% of women said they planned to buy less fashion items in the future, while 83% of those surveyed wanted to move to repairable and sustainable clothing. Even so, 40% of surveyed shoppers were also keen to get back to browsing in stores.
Unlike the debate over whether to open schools, how wise lifting restrictions for non-essential shops is, in terms of containing the pandemic and protecting public health, is not something that has seen widespread discussion.
The WHO recently pointed out that a second wave is all but guaranteed, and that countries should “continue to put in place the public health and social measures, the surveillance measures, the testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we continue on a downwards trajectory and we don’t have an immediate second peak.”
The British Retail Consortium has previously suggested that only those shops that can offer a safe environment should be allowed to reopen, and that if schools remained closed, it would be hard for retail workers to return to work.
This, once again, creates a slightly ambiguous message from the Government. Shops can reopen provided they are safe, but if they can’t be made safe, they can’t reopen. Given the inherent nature of shops – maximising floor space for products, which is especially true for large and busy retailers like Primark, the question of whether such an environment can actually be made safe at all in line with social distancing is one that retailers across the country are now hurriedly trying to answer.
At least on this occasion businesses have more time to prepare.
One thing does seem to be clear – If the queues at supermarkets are anything to go by, then shoppers may be in for a very long, drawn-out bout of retail therapy indeed. At least for the first few weeks.