When shops were allowed to reopen last week after a three-month lockdown, demand was huge. Reports of long queues spread nationwide and research firm Springboard commented that footfall was 38.8% higher. However, the experience of shopping is far from being back to normal: strict social distancing measures now have to be in place. From floor markings indicating a one-way system to the closure of all toilet facilities, the way we view clothes shopping may change. Rather than being something casual, an element of preparation may start to be included as we worry about how to keep ourselves and other shoppers safe. Although there were indeed large queues outside shops like Primark (which has opened all of its 153 stores) and Tkmaxx, this could still be a tough year for the industry as chains struggle to adjust to reduced buying compared to pre-lockdown levels. Footfall has increased but it is still down 55% from last year. It remains to be seen whether numbers of shoppers will continue to rise and what effects this will have on the high street generally, a feature of UK retail already facing difficulties.
Lots of things we normally take for granted about shopping are going to change. For example, the government has advised that most changing facilities be closed unless it is impossible to do so. Part of the fun is shopping is being able to try something on and show it to whoever you're with. Losing changing rooms limits the spontaneity of browsing and picking something risky and exciting to try out. Stores are also trying to reduce the amount shoppers are able to touch items, which removes the sensory and tactile aspects of purchasing clothes. However, these new ways are not all gloomy signs of things changing for the worse. Lack of spontaneity may result in more sustainable fashion choices: consumers are likely to turn up to shops knowing exactly what they need, which limits what can be easily bought and then just as easily discarded.
Although the experience of shopping will initially look different, just being able to return to such a commonplace activity will have mental health benefits. Psychological studies have found that shopping makes people happier, fighting off sadness and stress: this is something we can all benefit from. You can still meet up with friends to shop if you do it in a safe, socially distanced way which will definitely help to boost moods. It's also worth pointing out how severely affected the retail industry has been by Covid-19. Returning to the high street will help it recover as a whole.
When the Guardian interviewed shoppers lining up to re-enter the stores lockdown had kept them from, the prevailing view was one of relief. Most people were keen to return to a sense of normality-although there were safety concerns, it was just good to see that nothing much had changed. There does need to be a shift in the way we shop (which Covid may very well provide) but as long as it can be done safely, it's clear both owners and shoppers are excited about the prospect of enjoying fashion in person again.