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How Elite multichannel retailers opened their stores again today

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Non-essential retailers got the go-ahead to open their shops today for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown. We took a look at how the non-essential retailers in the Elite ranking of the Top500 of the RXUK Top500 approached re-opening for the first time since March 23 – and at how fellow Elite retailer Dunelm is operating stores that have been able to open for some time.

Gavin Prior, operations director at shopping centre business Intu, owner of Intu Lakeside and Intu Trafford Centre, where many leading retailers have stores, said there had been a steady return of shoppers during the day, with footfall by 2pm today up by 218% on a week earlier. He said: “Around 40% of stores are open today, with socially distanced queues forming for brands like Primark and Zara from early this morning, and many more are planning to reopen this week.”


Some 145 Argos standalone shops opened today – but only for click and collect pick-ups. Safety screens are in place at tills, and the number of people in a store is limited – with queues outside if needed. In a letter to customers, Sainsbury’s Argos chief executive Simon Roberts said the stores that had reopened were chosen because they were not close to an Argos in a branch of Sainsbury’s. He added: “We hope to reintroduce shopping in stores in the coming weeks, but until then you will need to order your items before you arrive at the store. There might be a queue to get into the store as we will be limiting the number of customers allowed in store at any one time. Our colleagues will be on hand to make sure we have a safe number of people inside the store and to help with social distancing while queuing.”

John Lewis

Just two of John Lewis’ department stores were scheduled to reopen today – in Poole and Kingston – while 11 more are to reopen on Thursday. 

The retailer shared a video on social media showing how it is making its shoppers feel safe in store. As elsewhere, shoppers have to keep two metres apart, and the number of people allowed into a store is limited. Signs are in place on the floor and on escalators while regular cleaning takes place in areas from door handles to chip and pin pads. Shoppers can now pick up online orders from the car park, using click and collect. 

However, personal services and cafés are staying closed for the moment. Some of those services, such as personal styling and nursery advice are taking place online. Overall, John Lewis has 50 stores and it is not yet clear when the remainder will reopen. The retailer started its summer clearance event on Sunday, offering discounts of up to 70%. 

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer food shops have been open for some time as an essential grocer, with shoppers able to collect their non-food online orders via collection points relocated closer to the food hall. Now that it is able to open its clothing shops it has set out the social distancing and cleaning measures that it is taking in store. Perspex screens have been installed at all tills. Services such as bra fitting are closed, but the retailer has developed online tools that shoppers can use instead. M&S has also re-opened cafes for take-away hot drinks delivered through contactless collection. A Rainbow sale continues to operate on the website, promising a 10% donation to NHS charities when shoppers buy items that are discounted by up to 50%. 


Next reopened more than 120 stores today with clear signage around safety and hygiene. Shoppers arriving at a store can see how many people can be in it at any given time. Floor markings and sanitising stations are flagged up throughout the shop, with payments only via contactless up to £45 or via smartphone using methods including Apple Pay and Google Pay above that. Contactless returns can also be made. Clothing is being discounted to half price or less in a dedicated clearance sections both on its websites and in-store. Many more of around 500 UK shops are scheduled to open over the coming week.


Dunelm has been able to open its shops for some time since it is a homewares retailer. It initially kept its shops closed while it worked out how to trade safely. Now its services are framed around reassuring customers, with contact-free click and collect available alongside call and collect, or pick while you wait services. It is currently trialling virtual shopping services in Redditch and Erdington, where sales staff on a video call take shoppers to see items they are interesting in buying. It also sets out in detail on its website how shoppers who visit the store can be sure of staying safe. Dunelm is currently running a summer sale, offering up to 50% off products both online and in-store. 

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