An opinion piece by Commercial Director, Julie Hulme.

From Monday 12th April retail is re-opening in England and Wales, with Scotland following from 26th April. To help retail and high streets recover, businesses are being encouraged by the UK government to open with extended opening hours. AWelcome Back Fund of £56m support package is being distributed through councils to help SMEs in retail and leisure, with calls from independent shops for comparable support, and rumours of aShop out to help out scheme. Also, planning rules are being relaxed and greater flexibility being granted to hospitality venues to use outdoor space to increase custom.

After a long year in lockdowns, I think these initiatives are a great idea. It’s extremely important to revitalise the retail sector, which has been heavily impacted by the effects of COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020. It’ll not only support economic recovery but be a much-needed boost to public morale after a difficult winter lockdown. The reopening of retail will also revitalise other sectors who will all benefit from the increased footfall, e.g., beauty, UK tourism, experiences and entertainment also reopening on 12th April and hospitality from 17th May.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of retail therapy and high-street shopping. Whilst online shopping has had its perks over the last year, nothing quite matches the full sensory experience of real-life retail, especially when coupled with restaurants, bars, and other leisure. I think the news of extending opening hours is a great idea. As a mother to teens, working full time, I can easily nip to the shops with the family and grab a bite to eat without the pressured rush of evening closing time.  I can practically feel the sun on my face already, walking around my local open-air retail village, treating my family to a pizza and shopping after school!

The changes should also help reduce the spread of the virus, which will naturally increase as we re-socialise. Public transport at peak times may not be as congested, similarly the road networks and car parks. The longer opening hours may also ease the pressure on shops during typically popular times, allowing for easier management of social distancing and in-store capacity restrictions.

Of course, the true long-term success of these measures will only be known in the coming months, especially as extended hours will mean lower profit margins. There is a lot to do in preparation for reopening, both in terms of property and people. Premises will require Vacant Property Inspections (VPIs) and re-opening procedures to be followed, such as mothballing to SFG30. Some businesses may require refurbishment or new safety measures putting into place, such as fresh social distancing management or Perspex screens and a general spring clean.

Considering the human aspects of extended opening hours, businesses will have to staff for longer and may need to recruit to suit these new business needs, or they may see it as an unviable option. Of course, greater security coverage to help support COVID management (e.g., for temperature testing and social distance monitoring) would also be needed and thought given to compliance for insurance. Customers may embrace the novelty and variation from the monotony of lockdown initially but then resume back to “traditional” shopping hours. Also, spend the money needed to support additional staffing; many people do not have the same disposable income they had a year ago.

Despite these caveats and considerations, I am hopeful. Both for the retail and hospitality sectors and the decreasing spread of the virus as more of the country is vaccinated supporting future relaxing of restrictions. I’m less hopeful about the British weather, but I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!