The Prime Minster has announced a timeline for retail premises to reopen in June. Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June. Subject to the Government’s test for controlling the virus being met, it is expected that other non-essential retail, including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, will be permitted to reopen from 15 June.

The proposed re-opening will be welcome news for retailers. Whilst online retail sales increased by 15.8% month-on-month last month, the Office for National Statistics reported that physical retail sales values had declined by -18.1% year-on-year, a significant increase on the rate of decline witnessed in March (-3.9%).

Businesses will only be permitted to re-open where its premises are ‘COVID-secure.’ The Government has this week updated its guidance on ‘shops and branches’ and working safely during coronavirus. The guidance includes advice on managing ‘customers, visitors and contractors’ as well as ensuring ‘social distancing at work.’

The overall aim of the Government’s guidance is to ensure that two metres social distancing is maintained wherever possible.

We set out a small sample of recommendations in the Government’s guidance below:

  • Limiting the number of customers in the store and encouraging customers to shop alone where possible.
  • Encouraging customers to use hand sanitiser or hand-washing facilities as they enter the premises.
  • Encouraging customers to avoid handling products whilst browsing, if at all possible.
  • Looking at how people walk through the shop and how you could adjust this to reduce congestion and contact between customers, for example, queue management or one-way flow, where possible.
  • Using outside premises for queuing where available and safe.

Last week, the Property group published an article on the property law implications of returning to the workplace with a focus on the office environment. A number of the matters discussed in our article will have application to retail premises. For instance, retailers may be considering reconfigurations and alterations to comply with the guidance; the introduction of effective signage and the adequacy of existing premises. They may also wish to consider how they can meet their obligations under the lease (e.g. any obligations to comply with laws). Those points are considered in more detail in our previous article.

It should also be noted that some retail premises will form part of a larger development. Those businesses may find our comments on ‘Common Parts and the Landlord’s obligations’ in our last article useful. The guidance makes clear that shopping centres are required to take responsibility for regulating the number of customers in any centre, including the queuing process in communal areas on behalf of retailers.

Retailers and those owning retail premises will want to begin preparations as soon as possible to allow for a smooth re-opening and to ensure that their premises are ‘COVID-secure.’