The U.K. has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, the total number of cases stands at 219,183 with 31,855 recorded deaths. These figures are the fourth highest after the United States, Spain and Russia.
Nevertheless, British prime minister Boris Johnson has announced his first tentative plans to ease the lockdown that commenced on March 23. This follows measures introduced by other European countries including France which is beginning to emerge from lockdown today with the reopening of nonessential retail.
More detailed guidance is expected shortly, but here’s everything we know about the reopening so far — including implications for manufacturing, retail and border control and the response of the fashion and luxury industry.
Business and Manufacturing
People are encouraged to return to work this week, especially those employed in in the manufacturing industry. Safely guidelines are likely to include social distancing, masks and temperature checks.
A phased reopening of shops could begin June 1, starting with gardening centers.
Pubs, Restaurants and Cinemas
These businesses are likely to remain closed until July — and the same restrictions will likely apply to hair and beauty salons
Outdoor Sports and Exercise
Allowed as of this week, but you must only exercise with immediate family members.
To be avoided if possible. Walking and cycling is also preferable to driving.
Two week quarantine restrictions are likely to come into play for those entering the country. However, travel between the U.K. and France will be exempt as outlined in a reciprocal agreement between Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Industry View
Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole
“However tentative, the first steps of any kind towards safely restarting the economy are to be welcomed, and the phased reopening of luxury retail from June 1 offers a glimmer of hope,” said Brocklebank, who runs Walpole, the official sector for the British luxury industry.
According to Brocklebank, the fact that many Walpole members have already opened in other parts of the world means that the group has already gleaned valuable experience in socially-distanced retailing. She added that every member already has a plan in place for keeping customers and employees safe once they reopen for business.
She cautioned: “The key to a successful restart will also involve stimulating consumer demand, so over the next few weeks I expect to see a subtle shift in luxury communications from ‘infotainment’ to something which nudges a little closer to purchase.”
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Anthony Romano, CEO, Church’s
The executive told FN that he is looking to reopen the brand’s Northampton factory at the end May, increasing production in June. His current focus is ensuring the safety of employees with the provision of gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, specialist extra cleaning, Perspex dividers, separation of work stations, staggered starts and end of day, infra-red thermometers and walking flows.
“We have gone all out to make sure we cover as many areas as possible, to reduce the risk to our workers, ensure isolation and protection,” he said.
For the customers and employees in stores already reopened in Europe — including locations in Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Geneva and Madrid — he has introduced similar measures and special procedures for serving shoppers from a distance.
The important U.K. retail market is also top of mind. “I have spoken to many colleagues from luxury brands there,” he said. “While the government furlough system and tax relief has been appreciated, with an eight to 10 week closure of stores, minimal or no rent relief, and an expected sales decrease of 30-50 percent, it will be a hard year for most retailers.”
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The founder of the eponymous independent footwear label is relying on e-commerce, both via her own site and those of her partners. She cited the importance of “honest, open and continual conversations” with her stockists “to create effective plans and strategies.”
As she operates with smaller capsule collections dropping throughout the year, Chamandi said her overall strategy won’t change. “Each of my collections are organic evolutions of previous collections so I am not too limited by seasonal constraints,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my shoes feeling old when the physical retail stores open their doors again.”
Meanwhile, she’s been keeping in close contact with her customers via social media, sharing content they’d like to see, or making some requested styles available for direct purchase. “This has been crucial for the success of the brand since the beginning and remains ever more so today,” she concluded.