Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

A tale of 2 metres: how the shopping experience has changed

As the Covid-19 situation appears to be getting better, non-essential shops have finally been allowed to reopen. For shoppers (and many people bored at home), this is fantastic news. On Monday, 15 June or #IAmOpen day as it was christened on social media, people could head out to the shops and spend a little. I headed into Coventry city centre on Monday and experienced it first-hand.

It wasn’t my intention to attempt clothes shopping when the shops reopened, but circumstances forced my hand – one of my jeans split, and the other pair are certainly on their way out. The obvious place to go would have been Primark, but I quickly saw that that wasn’t an option. There was a giant queue outside the shop, contained within metal barriers that seemed to run on for miles. It was patrolled by security staff, who reminded people to keep a safe distance, and they said you could be waiting for upwards of an hour. I didn’t want to wait that long, but a lot of people were.

People were following the advice, with lots of lines outside shops

As I wandered through the city centre, most shops I saw had signs in the window advising people on the new safety methods. There were also reminders posted all over the place to keep two metres away from other people in the area. People were following the advice, with lots of lines outside shops which were observing this requirement, most of whom were wearing masks and full protective gear. When you reached the shop, most had a hand-washing and sanitising table, which customers were welcome to use.

In the end, clothes shopping didn’t happen. I like to try jeans on just to make sure they’re a nice fit, but the changing rooms were closed everywhere I went. If you do wind up going, my advice would be to take your measurements in advance, because that’s how all the shops I went to tried to help you. In the absence of fitting rooms, this seems a reasonable measure. I wasn’t after any shoes, but I asked how shops were dealing with people who wanted to try those on. Apparently, you now need to wear a disposable sock, which is really hideous.

I think it could make for a really pleasant shopping experience

Unable to buy jeans, I wandered about to see what else was open. I tried a few bookstores, and the experience was really nice. I always feel a little self-conscious in bookstores – everyone is so quiet, you feel guilty if you have to make the slightest bit of noise. With the number of people in the store limited, that pressure is off. There were some new rules in place, however. Every book you picked up, whether you were buying it or not, had to be taken to the till or a drop-off point. The staff scan the ones you wanted and take the other ones off for quarantine. I asked about this and it turns out that they’re now required to seal off every book that is touched for 72 hours.

Similar measures were in effect in HMV and CeX, where I browsed for a couple of DVDs. Something I really enjoyed is that, as the number of customers was limited in-store, you were encouraged to make use of the staff, their time and their knowledge. I knew what I wanted for myself, but I took advantage of the questioning to attempt to find a Father’s Day gift for my dad. I picked up a great book in Waterstones that the staff found for me, based on things I told them he liked, and it was so much easier.

Many shops are predicting that these measures could be in place until the end of the year and, once the novelty of shops has worn off, I think it could make for a really pleasant shopping experience. I’ve enjoyed how the pandemic has made food shopping a more relaxed and generally polite experience, and it would be nice to see that same factor translate to the high street. Keep safe and respectful, and the new-look shopping experience could be a hugely positive one.

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