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As UK stores reopen, 15 billion pounds of inventory must be sold

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

15 Jun 2020


After three months of enforced closures, stores across the UK are finally opening on Monday, with queues of shoppers seen outside major retailers including Primark and John Lewis.

On a visit to Westfield’s East London mall on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged consumers to support local businesses and go shopping, despite the social distancing rule of two meters to remain in place. In stores, plexiglass dividers, closed changing rooms and facemask-wearing staff will be the new norm. ‘I think people should shop and shop with confidence but they should of course observe the rules on social distancing and do it as safely as possible,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am very optimistic about the opening up that’s going to be happening.”

In Ireland stores are expected to reopen on Friday, whereas Wales is preparing to exit lockdown on June 22nd . Scotland, too, is expected to announce a provisional date to reopen stores.

The problem of 15 billion pounds of unsold stock

But as brick and mortar retail comes out of hibernation, the grave issue of unsold stock is a dark cloud looming over the high street. With 15 billion pounds of unsold inventory sitting in stock rooms, warehouses and containers, the high street is cutting prices by as much as 70 percent to entice shoppers back. Despite the heavy discounting, two-thirds of people are worried to enter stores and one in five believe they won’t do so again, according to figures from the ONS.

Creating a safe shopping environment

While hand sanitizing stations are placed at entrances and throughout stores, there is still the murky problem of trying garments and shoes. For the latter, a shoe quarantine policy has been put in place at stores such as Kurt Geiger, which sees all shoes tried by customers go into a 24 hour quarantine. Socks will be mandatory, with disposal options provided. At some jewellery stores, tried accessories will be placed in ultraviolet boxes that can decontaminate items in minutes. At Selfriges, shoes and accessories will be cleaned with sanitising spray or steamed, while at Primark basket handles will be cleaned after each use.

Fashion retailers have been hugely affected by the coronavirus crisis. Even those with high traffic e-commerce sales have reported drops in sales.

April saw the UK’s GDP tumble by more than 20 per cent and analysts warn that up to 4.5million could lose their jobs. Springboard’s weekly footfall data showed an 11 per cent fall in people going out to shop last week compared to the previous week, with numbers also down for every day back to and including June 3.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Conortium, commented: “Retailers have been under immense pressure for the past three months but the reopening of non-essential shops is unlikely to deliver immediate relief. A mix of low consumer confidence and limits on the number of people able to enter stores mean that many shops will continue to suffer lower footfall - and lower sales - for some time to come.”

London’s West End, which includes Oxford Street, is expecting about 80 percent fewer visitors on Monday.

Image via New West End Company; Article sources: BBC, Daily Mail, ONS, Springboard

John Lewis