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This week, what’s next for UK retailers preparing to re-open their businesses? 

As a membership, the AIS buying group consists of 550 independent retailers ranging from single high street shops and flagship department stores to garden centres and furniture specialists. This week the AIS Fashion team discuss how its Members and the wider independent sector are preparing to safely re-open their stores once the lock-down eases.

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Q: How are AIS Members tackling re-opening stores once the enforced lockdown eases?

FD: "One of the primary concerns for all retailers when it comes to re-opening will be the welfare of their staff and customers and it’s something that won’t happen without thorough consideration. We are in regular contact with our Members and as they prepare to re-open their businesses, one of the biggest challenges they face will be addressing all health & safety legislation and instating social distancing, not just throughout the stores but also in any store-owned car parks".

AA"In the short-term, retail for all of us will look and feel very different and specifically on social distancing measures, stores are considering implementing employee rotation patterns, one-way foot flow systems and a limit on the number of customers in the store at any one time. From a fashion perspective, we are looking at how fitting rooms can be operated safely; from quarantining garments which have been tried-on, to steam-cleaning clothing before it goes back out on the shop floor. I think some stores will follow the lead of the supermarkets and designate employees to act as ‘social distancing marshals’ which is a great way of instilling additional customer confidence".

VC: "There are more obvious measures that I think we’ll see rolled out across most retailers; such as introducing new cleaning regimes, closing earlier than usual to completely disinfect the store and providing additional hand sanitiser throughout. From a practical shop-floor point of view, our Members are investigating contact-less returns procedures, as well as addressing additional signage requirements and point of sale protective equipment - as a buying group, we are lucky to work with a large supplier base, many of whom are now producing PPE".

JC"There is ongoing discussion surrounding the delayed re-opening of the hospitality sector and in-store coffee shops, cafes and restaurants are a big part of our culture -stores are considering offering take-away options as a short-term solution but preparing to close-off these areas and re-assign the staff. There are also implications for all retailers who offer a delivery or click & collect service and the advice for limiting hand-to-hand contact includes creating pick-up and drop-off points, staggered collection times and enforced queuing systems".

Q: In these unprecedented times, what support platforms are AIS Members finding useful outside of the organisation?

AA: "I’ve been really impressed with the quality of support available for retailers in general and by the way each of our sectors has come together and formed support communities. Alongside the government issued information, there is a lot of helpful and interesting industry specific content including newsletters, free webinars, forums, blogs and WhatsApp groups".

JC: "Our Membership is itself a huge network of resource and support, alongside that, Bira’s Coronavirus Hub contains loads of useful business advice, including the latest guidance, webinars and links - they have also been offering a free temporary membership support package to all independent retailers".

VC: "The British Retail Consortium is a great go-to and their website has a host of useful links to resources designed to help retailers cope with the ever-changing picture, meanwhile their Coronavirus bulletins cover the latest retailer announcements".

FD: "Specifically from a fashion perspective, Drapers offers daily updates on how the industry is collectively reacting to the pandemic which is an extremely useful tool in gleaning a bigger picture perspective".