Government’s ‘plan B’ is a ‘cruel time’ for fashion retail

Yesterday (December 8) Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that restrictions on coronaviruses will be tightened in England as part of the government’s ‘Plan B’ strategy to curb the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant during the months of ‘winter.

People were told they were to work from home “if they could” from Monday December 13th.

In the meantime, from this Friday (December 10), the legal obligation to wear face covers will be extended to theaters and cinemas.

The NHS Covid pass will also be made mandatory for indoor and outdoor venues where large crowds congregate, including indoor non-seated venues of over 500 people, outdoor non-seated venues of more than 5,000 people and any location over. of 10,000 people. This will come into effect in a week.

Retailers and industry bodies have told Drapers tighter restrictions will hurt attendance and sales heading into Christmas, just as they have started to show signs of a recovery.

“Although the work-from-home orientation may seem like a ‘low impact’ orientation to most, there are still a large number of businesses and livelihoods that will be negatively affected by this measure,” said one. spokesperson for men’s shirt brand Charles Tyrwhitt. clothiers.

“This is particularly cruel timing as these businesses were just starting to get back on their feet, aided by our large cities slowly coming back to life. Without any sign of targeted government support, a number of small businesses will end. and will have a training impact that will be much greater than many think possible. ”

Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said a negative impact on footfall is inevitable for retailers: “The decision whether or not to implement stricter Covid regulations is a public health decision to be taken on a scientific basis. .

“Retail has remained a safe space during the pandemic and retailers will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep their customers safe. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that the decision to reintroduce working from home advice will have a significant impact on footfall at some retailers who are just starting to find their feet after the pandemic. “

Fashion retailers fear downtown locations may be hit the hardest, due to a drop in the number of commuters.

“There will be a change in shopping habits and a drop in footfall in London,” Kenny Wilson, CEO of Dr Martens, told Drapers.

However, Wilson explained that as people shift to working from home, the brand’s locations in out-of-town locations will recoup some of the lost sales.

In addition, the internet will reinforce any drop in income: “The momentum has been strong and I expect this to continue despite the tightening of measures. When stores were closed last year, more pairs [of shoes at Dr Martens] were sold online – this trend will continue this time. London will be the hardest hit – the city will experience a drop in attendance. “

Likewise, the manager of a menswear multiple with stores across the UK, including Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham, told Drapers he expected sales at his stores outside the city remain strong.

However, he’s worried about the negative impact this will have on the company’s downtown locations: “We’ve seen a lot of pain in our downtowns and the restrictions do nothing to encourage retailers. or buyers to come back to town. Overall, we are very busy at the moment and expect this to continue, despite the restrictions. However, we believe that we are still catching up to make up for lost sales last year, and that is not helping our recovery.

Jace Tyrrell, CEO of the New West End Company, which represents businesses in Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, said the shift to work from home will be a “hammer blow” for retail: “Okay that our top priority remains, the safety and well-being of our customers and colleagues, and we fully support the mandatory wearing of masks in stores, a new order of “work from home” during the most important commercial period of the year. he year would be a hammer blow for our retail and leisure tenants.

“Many businesses have spent time and money on their Christmas plans in an effort to make up for losses from the past year – a vital investment that they will not be able to recoup. “

He continued: “In the event of further restrictions, the government must immediately clarify the implications of Plan B for the retail and hospitality sector, and whether additional financial support will be offered to struggling businesses. is that there can be a balance between keeping everyone safe and supporting Main Street when needed. Otherwise, we risk another miserable Christmas for struggling businesses and their staff. “

Meanwhile, a men’s clothing tailor, with a store in London, told Drapers that while he expects footfall to drop slightly due to the restrictions, he doesn’t envision it having a significant impact: “London is booming right now and the store is still benefiting from pent-up demand. The change in restrictions will bite this bubble, but it will not be catastrophic. Although there are fewer office workers, for us the increase in demand has been driven by an increased presence of foreign tourists in the West End rather than the return of office workers. “

Okay, the owner of an independent menswear store in the south of England told Drapers that he hopes online to recoup any lost sales: “Luckily we have made a transactional website the last year and it got us through most of the lockdown early on. of the year. We hope this will work in our favor if we see a drop in attendance starting next week.

The introduction of Covid restrictions, while not a complete lockdown, will impact retailers in downtown areas that have arguably been hit the hardest by Covid restrictions throughout the pandemic .

Drapers has contacted the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for comment.

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