How retailers can stay open and reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic

At close of trade on 23 March, all non-essential retail in the UK including fashion and homeware, barbers and hairdressers, beauty and tattoo parlours were closed by the government in an effort to prevent the further spread of coronavirus – a catastrophic move for many retailers. Those exempt from these measures including food retailers, online operators and bike shops have typically seen exponential growth by comparison. More information regarding the classification (essential/ non-essential) of retail businesses is available here.    

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will change the face of retail as we know it, but what measures are available to businesses now and what does the road map out of lockdown look like? 

Support available for retail businesses

The Chancellor’s package of temporary measures to help support retail businesses during this period includes:

More information on these measures and what they continue to mean for your business can be found on our coronavirus hub.  

A road map out of lockdown

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 10 May we now have a road map out of lockdown with some key dates for the retail sector:

Step 1 – 13 May onwards 

Limited return to work for people who cannot work from home and who work for businesses not subject to mandated closure. 

Step 2 – No Earlier Than 1 June

Non-essential and non-food retail to reopen and phased reopening of other businesses not covered by legal closure. Reopening is subject to businesses being able to follow the new 'Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidelines for Shops and Branches' (more detail below). 

Step 3 – No Earlier Than 4 July

Some leisure and hospitality operators required to legally close during lockdown will be allowed to reopen subject to social distancing and Working Safely Guidelines being met.  

Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Stores and Branches 

The Government, in consultation with industry and unions, has produced guidance for workplaces currently allowed to open and those seeking to reopen in certain sectors between now and 1 June to do so safely. 

Complying with social distancing 

For retailers, this means making every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing. Where this is not possible, businesses are advised to take mitigating measures including:

  • reviewing store layouts;
  • adding screens or barriers to separate people from each other;
  • side-to-side or back-to-back working (rather than face-to-face) where possible;
  • staggering the arrival and departure times of employees to avoid overcrowding; 
  • additional parking or bike racks to encourage employees to travel to work without using public transport;
  • reducing movement around stores with the encouraged use of radios or telephones for communication; and
  • a one-way flow system through stores with floor markings and signage. 

Managing staff 

Staff should be grouped into shift patterns or pairings to reduce contact as much as possible. Meetings should be limited, and break times should be staggered with packaged meals provided to avoid opening staff canteens. Handwashing facilities and cleaning materials should be made readily available.

Managing customers

To manage customers retailers are encouraged to: 

  • define the number of customers that can reasonably follow 2 metre social distancing within the store;
  • limit the number of customers in-store and encourage them to shop alone;
  • have more than one entry point in larger stores to reduce congestion; 
  • use floor markings and signage to aid social distancing;
  • use contactless payment where possible;
  • suspend or reduce customer services that cannot be undertaken without breaking social distancing guidelines; and
  • use outside space for queuing where possible. 

The use of fitting rooms is to be carefully considered and only used where necessary. They should be cleaned frequently and items that have been tried on should be managed, possibly through a delay in returning to the shop floor. 

Retailers should also limit customer handling of merchandise through different display methods or rotation of high-touch stock. When handling returns these should be ‘no contact’ where possible with goods taken to designated areas.

Returns should also be kept separate from displayed merchandise to reduce likelihood of transmission. 


Stock and other deliveries should also be reduced in frequency and where possible with revised pick-up and drop-off collection points and procedures.

Cleaning and waste management 

An extra £14m has been made available to the Health and Safety Executive to support businesses in making stores and workplaces safe for employees and the general public.

Steps to improve cleaning include an increase in waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collections, provision of hand sanitiser in multiple locations and toilets, signage to promote hygiene standards and enchased cleaning of the store and busy areas. 

Read the guidance in full

Other resources for retail businesses 

For more information please contact Andrew Westbrook

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