In an attempt to kickstart the economy and help many small business owners get back to their livelihoods, the Government have outlined plans for the phased reopening of the British high street from the 15th of June.
Where previously only businesses deemed essential, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, had been allowed to open, when the restrictions ease many more non-essential businesses will be allowed to trade.
While this is likely welcome news for many small business owners who had to shutter their stores at the start of the lockdown, there will, naturally, be some concerns about returning to trading while the COVID-19 virus is still present.
So, what do you need to know about the reopening of the high street?
Which shops can open?
It was previously announced that, as part of the phased exit from lockdown, some businesses could resume their trading from the 1st of June. However, this was limited to trade which could be carried out outside.
Car dealerships and outdoor markets reopened from the first of the month, while other indoor businesses have had to wait until a fortnight later.
The UK Government has provided a comprehensive list of non-essential businesses which can resume trading from the 15th of June.
- food retailers
- hardware/homeware stores
- fashion shops
- charity shops
- betting shops and arcades
- tailors, dress fitters and fashion designers
- car dealerships
- auction houses
- antique stores
- retail art galleries
- photography studios
- gift shops and retail spaces in theatres, museums, libraries, heritage sites and tourism sites
- mobile phone stores
- indoor and outdoor markets
- craft fairs
- similar types of retail.
However, notably absent from this list of non-essential businesses allowed to resume trading are hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and tattooists. These types of businesses are still unable to resume trading due to the inability to socially distance from customers while working.
What do businesses need to do to open?
While businesses on the above list of non-essential businesses are able to reopen from the 15th of June, there are precautions that need to be taken and conditions which need to be met before any business can reopen.
The Government guidance states that any business planning to reopen once restrictions are eased must complete a risk assessment to ensure that their premises are appropriately safe and set up to allow for social distancing.
Businesses are advised to define the number of customers that can reasonably fit in the premises while maintaining the two-metre rule and outline routes through stores which facilitate social distancing with marked outlines indicating two-metre distances.
As well as this, the Government advice says that businesses planning on reopening should discourage browsing and unnecessary handling of products to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Where necessary businesses are advised to stop services which cannot be provided without breaking the social distancing measures, for example, bra fittings and other changing room services.
While these measures are largely customer-focused, there is also guidance in place focused on staff safety. For example, it is recommended that workers be split into teams and shifts, with each team working separately and not coming into contact with each other to avoid the potential spread of the virus.
It has also been suggested that clear screens of perspex or similar materials should be erected around the checkout and payment areas to provide a barrier between customers and staff.
More guidance for shops and businesses about reopening as the lockdown restrictions ease can be found on the Government website.
Handling cash and chip and pin transactions during COVID-19
Since the COVID-19 virus emerged, we have all been encouraged to avoid any unnecessary touching of surfaces and items in an attempt to avoid the spread of the virus.
Government guidelines advised us to wash our hands every 20 minutes or after touching things such as door handles, elevator buttons, shopping trolleys and other communal or public surfaces.
For stores and businesses reopening these measures can, largely, continue to be followed. Discouraging people from browsing and picking up items they do not intend to purchase can help reduce the transmission of germs and potential contamination of surfaces with the virus.
The Government has also advised that shops and businesses should aim to provide handwashing facilities or antibacterial gel dispensers at the entrance to their premises so that customers can disinfect their hands before entering.
One area of focus for advice during the height of the COVID-19 crisis was on restricting the use of cash for payments.
Again, this was outlined in an attempt to reduce cross-contamination risks and to avoid cashiers and checkout staff being exposed to the virus through the handling of contaminated notes and coins.
Most stores refused to accept cash payments, pushing for the use of contactless card payments instead. In response to this, the contactless spending limit was increased from £30 to £45 across the UK and €30 to €50 in Ireland.
While the easing of restrictions on businesses signals the beginnings of a return to normality, the reluctance for staff and customers to accept and handle cash remains.
So, if you’re planning to reopen your business once the restrictions are lifted, creating a safe system for customers to make payments is essential.
You could follow in the footsteps of many businesses and discourage payments with cash.
While there is no official legal or regulatory guidance on this, many businesses including supermarkets and pharmacies have already enacted similar procedures. So, it is likely that you would have the right to refuse cash payments if you felt it was unsafe for yourself or your staff to handle cash from customers.
However, this carries risks itself in terms of business and customer loyalty. It is feared that the COVID-19 crisis has expedited the decline of cash as a method of payment, potentially leaving many people without access to digital and card payment methods disenfranchised.
As a small business owner, you will have to weigh up the pros and cons of declining cash payments during the COVID-19 crisis.
Where possible, and when within the spending limit, encouraging your customers to use contactless methods can help to keep staff and customers safe from exposure to the virus.
If customer totals exceed the £45 contactless spending limit, then it’s worth putting some measures into place to make using a chip and pin terminal is as safe as possible for your customers.
Having disinfectant spray and disposable tissue handy behind the till means that staff can wipe clean the keypad and other areas between each customer. The used tissue should then be disposed of in a lidded bin to avoid the potential for virus particles to transmit through the air.
Getting you back in business
The easing of the lockdown restrictions for shops and businesses has already been well received by UK customers. There was a reported 31% increase in shoppers out and about after the first easing of restrictions on the 1st of June.
As more and more businesses return to the high street it’s likely that even more people will be taking advantage of this opportunity to regain some normalcy in their lives by shopping at familiar favourite shops and businesses.
Ensuring a safe shopping experience is of the utmost importance for both businesses and customers and to ensure the continued decline of the COVID-19 virus.
Speak with one of our RSM 2000 representatives today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about your payment solutions ahead of reopening your business.