This is our third national lockdown; businesses have become very adept at changing to accommodate each new set of restrictions at the last minute before the deadline when they become law, but the latest set of instructions has retailers scratching their heads. On the day that the new lockdown comes into force, many retailers are still trying to work out whether they are able to offer any services to the public.
The Prime Minister announced on Monday 4 January that we should stay home and only leave the house for specific important reasons. Exercise is one of them. Shopping for basic requirements is another.
Non essential shops must close from the morning of Wednesday 6 January, but retailers were struggling on Tuesday 5 to understand whether that meant they could continue to offer click and collect services.
Retail businesses have spent endless hours building up their websites in recent months so they can continue to trade safely by offering a click and collect service. It has enabled some to remain in business and it has certainly helped customers who wanted to try and support their local shops rather than just ordering from Amazon. They have also been developing their local delivery services.
As darkness fell on Tuesday and shop staff were preparing to go home, it still wasn’t clear to some of the owners of retail businesses what action they should take or what they should tell their staff.
As the guidance for businesses has been published over the past 24 hours, it would appear that buying something from a store and going to the store to pick it up, or buying something online and having it delivered to you are both still ok.
Guidance for businesses
Government guidance says:
‘non-essential retail, such as clothing and homeware stores, vehicle showrooms (other than for rental), betting shops, tailors, tobacco and vape shops, electronic goods and mobile phone shops, auction houses (except for auctions of livestock or agricultural equipment) and market stalls selling non-essential goods. These venues can continue to be able to operate click-and-collect (where goods are pre-ordered and collected off the premises) and delivery services’.
Guidance for shoppers
So that’s clear from the seller’s perspective. What’s less clear is whether customers are able to go to the shops legally.
The top line of government advice is:
‘You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary’.
‘You may leave the home to: shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person’.
Further down the page the advice is:
‘Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating.
John Fitzgerald, who runs Snappy Snaps in Chiswick, is offering a click and collect service today (Wednesday 6 January) and says they are expecting further clarification later today.
“I’m just trying to understand what we can and can’t do and it’s really not clear”.
UPDATE from John, Thursday 7 January – “After much debate, mostly with myself as no-one else seems to know anything we are closed… for click and collect but open at the moment for click and delivery..”
Images above: LA Menswear
Grants announced for businesses which have to close
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on 5 January one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 per property to help businesses through to the spring. A £594 million discretionary fund is also being made available to support other impacted businesses.
“That’s fantastic” says John. “At this point we’re just trying to minimise losses and that would really help”.
The one-off top-ups will be granted to closed businesses as follows:
- £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
- £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
- £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000
The guidance for businesses says:
‘any business which is legally required to close, and which cannot operate effectively remotely, is eligible for a grant’.
This also is open to interpretation. For John, operating a click and collect service, keeping the shop open for three hours a day for collection only is worthwhile ‘to provide a service to customers and keep the business ticking over’. It does not make him a profit. The calculation he has to make is whether this is operating ‘effectively’ or whether he should just shut up shop completely and take the grant.
‘I’d like to sell a pair of jeans but not if it’s going to cost me £6,000’
Henrik Hansen, who runs LA Menswear on Turnham Green Terrace has kept his business going through the pandemic by offering click and collect and home delivery, but this time round he is not offering either service until he is clearer about what the rules are.
“I’m not offering either service until I get clarification on whether it negates the opportunity to apply for a grant.
“I am in the middle band, so could apply for a grant of £6,000. I need to sit down and start crunching the numbers, but it partly depends how long this might go on for.
“Someone rang me this morning wanting to buy a pair of jeans, and I’d love to help them, but not if it’s going to cost me £6,000”.
Like several other business owners The Chiswick Calendar has talked to, Henrik said:
“I understand why they’re doing this. They should have done it before”.
What should customers do?
The only thing potential customers can do for the time being is to look at the individual businesses’ websites – if they’re open for click and collect their website should be up to date – or ring the shop and see if anyone answers. An unsatisfactory and inefficient way of finding out, but all we’re left with for the time being.
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