We decided to pop out yesterday to see what the world is like following the recent lifting of the full lockdown, and I must say that it was not what I expected at all. I came away from the experience seeing more problems for retail in the future than the sector is currently experiencing and at the moment the situation is already dire.
Lets be honest, retail was not in good order before COVID-19 and there have been multiple warnings and financials that show High Street shopping merely hanging on. The fact that a lockdown of three months could cause so many retailers to go under is evidence enough of how precarious their positions were and all of the competing factors of online shopping, expensive rents etc remain even in the new abnormal.
Here are some random thoughts from my trip out yesterday-
Multiple people cannot work out what social distancing means and they cannot seem to understand arrows or obvious instructions. They are morons.
The shops that were open and that sold things people actually wanted to buy had long queues to get into them (and this was on a day when the footfall was half of the normal levels). My won wanted to buy some new trainers and I counted 50 people waiting to get into the store. We didn’t bother. This was replicated in many other stores and the number of people allowed within even the larger spaces was so low that I cannot see how they can make a sustainable profit.
When we managed to wander into stores with few people in them, mainly jewellers, the restrictions were so in your face that it felt too focussed and about as unrelaxed as could be. The staff had to watch each customer to ensure they were distancing and there was no way to try something on. It felt cold, bereft of any customer service despite the best efforts of some and I actually felt wrong just being in a store and wasting their time.
The sense of browsing and potentially making an impulse buy was gone, and this is particularly dangerous for those stores selling high-end goods. The lack of freedom offered within each store and even on the street where arrows told us which side to walk on left a feeling that this was not a choice we would make in future. With no coffee shops open, only now have I realised that shopping needs a coffee in the middle of it, there is just the trudging around shops and when you cannot do what you want to do it becomes a chore.
We were pleased to finally be out and the knowledge of being able to go out in the future is perhaps more important, but I personally was left with the sense that shopping in semi-lockdown is not worth the risk of having to deal with those who cannot socially distance due to dimness and that online is now a way better experience.
The one thing that retail stores had over online was the customer service, the ability to try goods and the relaxation of just wandering around. With all of that gone it leaves the sector circling the drain at an even faster rate than it was before.
It may be that the virus dissipates and that things go back to normal (a second wave would be a disaster of course), but I suspect that many more people have discovered online in the past few months and that whatever happens we won’t be shopping physically within a decade. It is a shame, but I see no other outcome.