SHOPPERS are today being urged to support their local retailers where possible, as non-essential stores reopen for the first time since lockdown began.

Businesses selling clothes, shoes, toys, books and electronic goods are among those which can now welcome customers, while complying with strict social distancing measures to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

Preparing for the reopening by visiting a shopping centre in east London yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did not know whether to expect “a flood or a trickle” today but that he hoped people would return in “sensible” numbers.

“I am very optimistic about the opening up,” he said. “I think people should shop and shop with confidence, but they should of course observe the rules on social distancing and do it as safely as possible.”

The Northern Echo has been running a campaign to support local businesses since March, offering independent companies the opportunity to have a free advert to help them spread their “shop local” message to as many customers as possible.

It has been backed by Durham County Council, and Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, among others.

The Northern Echo:

As part of the campaign, digital marketing experts at LOCALiQ, owned by Newsquest Media Group, publishers of The Northern Echo, have been working closely with local businesses.

Ryan Fenwick, sales director for LOCALiQ in the North-East, said the innovation and resilience of business has been the engine room of community prosperity for decades. However many firms will now need to think and act differently, as it will not be business as usual in the traditional sense.

“There are two very clear issues we’ve identified,” he said. “First, many traditional businesses have always been driven by footfall, high levels of passing trade and the immense power of recommendation. Much of that trade simply disappeared overnight.

“Businesses which might previously have been aware of the importance of the digital environment but not done much about it are quickly adapting and looking at new ways of operating.

“In particular this means having a credible website to promote their services and messages, and where necessary taking transactions via an e-commerce platform.”

The Northern Echo:

Ryan also believes many businesses will need to communicate in a more nuanced way about how they are opening for business while maintaining the new health and safety standards.

He added: “This may sound daunting but it need not be. With the right help, support and advice any business can become more nimble, responsive and imaginative in its marketing, promotion, advertising and communication.

“At Newsquest we are able to bring together the power of digital advertising and the communications skills and trust that has always been at the very heart of local newspapers, to deliver powerful carefully crafted, targeted messaging and communication.”

  • In order to reopen today shops must be “Covid-secure”, and they will be expected to place a notice on display so customers and staff can see that they are complying with the Government guidance.
  • Anywhere that is reopening is expected to have carried out a risk assessment, overseen by local authority staff and the Health and Safety Executive.
  • As well as informing all employees about the assessment’s findings, companies with more than 50 employees will be expected to publish the results on their website.
  • Shops must have developed hygiene procedures such as increasing the frequency of hand-washing and surface cleaning.
  • Items returned or “extensively handled” should be isolated for 72 hours or cleaned, guidance states.
  • Retailers will be expected to take steps including limiting how many customers there are inside their building at any one time and frequently cleaning and checking objects and surfaces.
  • Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with the regulations, supported by police. Breaches could result in prohibition notices and fixed penalties.
  • Customers will need to be prepared to wait, and are likely to be greeted by floor markings indicating one-way systems and signs reminding them to keep two metres apart from other shoppers as well as staff.

Ryan added: “We all recognise these are challenging times for everyone. But there can be some real reinvention for many businesses and sectors and I believe some big opportunities and positive outcomes for the future. And we know that our business communities are nothing if not resilient and innovative.”

  • For more information about how LOCALiQ can help, call Owen Allinson on 07542 501305.