Industry responds to non-essential retail’s tentative 12 April reopening date

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the government’s roadmap to cautiously ease lockdown restrictions in England, which will enable non-essential retail to open from 12 April, subject to conditions.

Step 2 of the roadmap, which is set to occur no earlier than 12 April will include

  • Non-essential retail, personal care premises, such as hairdressers and nail salons, and public buildings, such as libraries and community centres, will reopen.
  • Most outdoor attractions and settings, including zoos, and theme parks, will also reopen although wider social contact rules will apply in these settings to prevent indoor mixing between different households. Drive-in cinemas and drive-in performances will also be permitted.
  • Indoor leisure facilities, such as gyms and swimming pools, will also reopen – but only for use by people on their own or with their household.
  • Hospitality venues can serve people outdoors only. There will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal with alcohol, and no curfew – although customers must order, eat and drink while seated.

Before proceeding to the next step, the Government will examine the data to assess the impact of previous steps. There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step: four weeks for the data to reflect changes in restrictions; followed by seven days’ notice of the restrictions to be eased.

This assessment will be based on four tests: The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully; Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and an assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

Industry Reponse

Dr Tim Denison, director of analytics and insights at Ipsos Retail Performance, called the news ‘hugely encouraging’ after the withdrawal over winter.

He said: From last year’s lockdowns we learned that shoppers’ anxieties, around safety and hygiene in-store that we saw after the summer re-opening had diminished considerably come the second national re-opening in December, by which time retailers, staff and customers were well-versed with the required social distancing and queuing procedures. 

“I expect to see shoppers pick up where they left off last time around, with non-essential store footfall bouncing back to two thirds of the levels before the pandemic struck. This time around, of course, we have the added advantage that the vaccine rollout is well underway, and this may give some of the elderly who had been reluctant, after previous lockdowns, added reassurance to venture out. From a behavioural science perspective, we believe that all the elements are in place for this to happen.

“While we may have to wait until the second half of the year before things really start to brighten up in the economy, we can expect significant pent-up demand for retail therapy to be released when non-essential stores reopen after a dark winter.”

Dan Simms, co-head of retail agency at Colliers, called the news ‘profoundly depressing and ‘an unwelcome announcement’ for the retail and hospitality sector: “We have a world leading vaccine programme that is now rapidly changing the situation, yet the Government seems to be unable to even attempt to balance health, societal and economic considerations and shows no real understanding of the scale of the emergency for the sector. The dates announced will be simply too late for many businesses that have been able to trade for only small periods over the last year and the Government support merely papers over a few cracks.”

David Fox, co-head of retail agency at Colliers, also commented: “Whilst it is understandable that the Government remains cautious and reluctant to commit to re-opening the retail and hospitality sectors, without a continuation of support and clarity on business rates and the arrears moratorium, there will inevitably be further failures. It is incumbent for the Government to bridge the uncertainty of the immediate weeks, providing the time and hope that businesses need to prepare for a return to normal trading and benefit from the predicted consumer spending spree.”

Vicky Hernandez, a Partner in the Real Estate team at Royds Withy King said it is ‘just the starting point’ for a major shift in the relationship retail tenants have with their landlords.

She said: “The government’s roadmap is likely to result in the lifting of the moratorium on winding-up petitions and there will undoubtedly follow a flurry of activity with landlords seeking to recoup lost rent.

“There are, however, an equally large number of retail tenants that have cash to pay rents yet have heard nothing from their landlords. They are unlikely to simply want to hand it over. Retail tenants have the upper hand and will use that to renegotiate rents.

“Take, for example, shopping centres that have lost anchor tenants following the collapse of Debenhams, Top Shop, Top Man, Evans, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge. Footfall in those centres is likely to fall and other retailers will be questioning pre-COVID rent agreements.

“Destination high streets may also look very different, as wealthy overseas visitors continue to face travel restrictions. The rents on flagship stores can be extremely high and are unlikely to be sustainable.”

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