As of June 15, non-essential shops throughout the UK will be allowed to open for business. This is likely to impact ecommerce sales, but just how busy will these shops be, and what does that mean for online retailers?
Until now, only ‘essential’ shops selling food, medical supplies and other necessary goods and services have been accessible. Soon, this will extend to shops which sell furniture, clothes, sporting goods, hobbies and plenty more besides.
On the one hand, it’s still recommended that people are cautious about who they interact with, as the coronavirus is still spreading and, in some areas of the country, has been increasing. So it’s still safer to stay indoors.
To back this up, a number of recent studies have shown that people say they would prefer to stay home, stay safe, and won’t be going shopping even when allowed. This is good news for online retailers, who provide the safest way to shop right now.
However, anyone who has seen a McDonald’s drive through recently, and the queues stretching miles in all directions, will know that surveys and statistics only mean so much. When the sun shines and the people are bored, they’re going to head outside, regardless of the warnings.
In fact, for several weeks now, streets and shops have looked no different than they did before the lockdown, seemingly doing a regular amount of trade. The restrictions have been in place for three months, and many people just can’t sit at home any longer.
Real-life shopping also has several benefits over the online alternative. Shopping can be a social experience to be shared with friends, family and partners. It’s tactile, you can try on clothes, sit on furniture, hold items in your hand and play with them.
But how many of these advantages remain in a coronavirus-conscious world? Wearing a mask, gloves, keeping two metres distance and constantly applying hand sanitiser is not a fun day out. Trying on clothes and picking items up off the shelf is risky when you don’t know who did the same before you.
Much of what makes physical shopping fun is also what makes it dangerous right now. After all, that’s why shops were forced to close. So, sure, there will almost certainly be an initial rush when people are first allowed out of their homes without restriction. But then there’s every chance that the experience won’t match up to the expectations which have been building for so long.
Then there are all the shopping realities that aren’t improved when undertaken in person. There are vast numbers of people who have recently discovered for the first time that sitting on a sofa, in pyjamas, at any time of day or night, is far superior to negotiating traffic to drive miles out of their way to buy stuff. And many people have also learned that it’s possible to shop online without having your credit card details immediately stolen.
Few parents, for example, are looking forward to taking their kids into public spaces and keeping them under control, especially where the importance of hygiene and social distancing is heightened beyond all normalcy.
So, will the reopening of physical shops see customers rush out the door? Almost certainly. But will this mean all ecommerce activity drops to the levels it was at before? Almost certainly not. There’s too many people who are too safety-conscious, and too many people who are loving the ecommerce experience, for things to ever return to how they were before.