Nov 1, 2020
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Empty stores again: England in four-week lockdown, non-essential shops to close

Nov 1, 2020

The UK government at the weekend announced a new four-week lockdown for England, weeks after government advisors and opposition politicians had been urging it to do so. The furlough scheme is also being extended for another month.

Stores will have to close again just as the Christmas shopping season kicks off

But retail sector representatives have hit back saying that even though lockdown is needed, a second enforced closure of non-essential shops is unnecessary.

Non-essential shops will have to close as of Thursday, until December 2. On the plus side, unlike in other devolved nations in the UK that introduced circuit-breaker lockdowns earlier, shops selling essentials that also sell non-essentials won't have to cordon off the latter.

That news comes after widespread consumer unhappiness in Wales, for instance, where supermarkets were told they had to block access to the non-essentials aisles such as beauty, fashion and homewares.

But that's only a small crumb of comfort. The new lockdown comes as the UK enters the most crucial shopping season of the year with November and December usually accounting for the biggest chunk of retail sales and profits compared to other two month periods.

From that point of view, it's a disaster for many retailers. But it's not just the problem of the shops being closed as it's also about whether consumers would even want to bother buying fashion and beauty online when they have no social events to go to in what is usually the most social season of the year.

As mentioned, questions have been raised over whether closing shops would actually have much effect on the virus with some other countries that have gone into lockdown or semi-lockdown allowing non-essential stores to stay open as long as very strict social distancing is adhered to. And much of the evidence coming out at present suggests that it's social occasions that are the biggest culprit as far as virus transmission is concerned rather than activities such as shopping.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retail faces a nightmare before Christmas as the government proposes to close thousands of retail premises under this new national lockdown, denying customers access to many of their favourites shops and brands. It will cause untold damage to the high street in the run up to Christmas, cost countless jobs, and permanently set back the recovery of the wider economy, with only a minimal effect on the transmission of the virus.

“A recent SAGE paper reported that closing non-essential retail would have minimal impact on the transmission of Covid. This is thanks to the hundreds of millions of pounds retailers have spent making their stores Covid-secure and safe for customers and colleagues.

“The announced closure will have a significant economic impact on the viability of thousands of shops and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. The previous lockdown cost non-essential shops £1.6 billion a week in lost sales; now that we are entering the all-important Christmas shopping period, these losses are certain to be much bigger.”

New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell echoed the nightmare comment, also saying that the non-essential shops closure rule would create  "some of the most difficult trading period we've ever experienced” leading up to Christmas.

And it's a nightmare for the London economy in general as the West End employs one in 10 Londoners. Tyrrell added that many jobs have already been lost and more are at risk.

And he said that as well as reinstating the furlough scheme for an extra month, the government needs to commit to maintaining “essential support measures such as continued business rates relief after April next year”. 

Only last week, value retailer Shoe Zone so that it would be forced to close many more of its shops without an extension of business rates relief.

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