John Lewis, M&S, Sainsbury’s and O2 are among the multichannel retailers this week setting out how their shops will trade safely through Covid-19 at the busiest time of the year. They are putting in place measures from longer trading hours to bookable appointments and virtual queues in the run up to Christmas. The updates come ahead of next week’s reopening of non-essential retail stores that may mean visitors return in force to the high street. But since socially distanced queues will be in operation for stores where capacity will be limited, retailers are finding new ways to make in-store shopping safer while keeping it convenient at a usually busy time.
Many are offering longer hours, as Christmas approaches. Sainsbury’s – which has remained open throughout this lockdown as an essential retailer – says 90% of its stores will open from 6am until midnight between December 21 and 23. It wants to cut down on queues at the busiest time of the year and is also urging shoppers to come alone where possible.
Clodagh Moriarty, retail and digital director at Sainsbury’s, says: “In a year like no other, we want to do everything we can to help our customers celebrate Christmas, making sure they have everything they need to make the festive season as special as possible. We also want to make sure customers and colleagues are kept safe, which is why we’re opening our stores for longer and encouraging people to shop early and asking them to shop alone, where possible, this Christmas. This will help customers get in and out of shops quickly and safely and make sure everyone has what they need in plenty of time for the big day.”
Mobile retailer O2 is adding almost 1,000 extra opening hours in December once its shops are able to reopen next week. Shops will stay open to 10pm and the company says that the one will give customers extra time to get advice outside of normal working hours.
O2 director of sales Gareth Turpin said: “We know that tech is always high on many Christmas lists each year. We want to make it as easy as possible to get the best advice on that new phone or tablet, and we’re adding thousands of extra trading hours to help the high street and give more time for face to face service as people do their Christmas shopping.”
John Lewis’ stores will be given the flexibility to extend their opening hours as appropriate and in order to spread out footfall over a longer period.
Sainsbury’s is using its loyalty scheme to encourage shoppers to shop earlier, with large Nectar point bonuses available. Shoppers can earn ten times the usual points when they buy long life store cupboard Christmas items such as cranberry sauce, crackers and Christmas pudding.
One community of retailers is encouraging its shoppers to visit by offering offers that are only available in-store. More than 23 retail brands in the King’s Cross and Coal Drops Yard area of London – including Paul Smith, Samsung and SpaceNK – have come up with the United We Shop scheme to give 40% off or extra free gifts to shoppers when they buy selected items in-store.
James Rayner, retail lead at King’s Cross, says: “The UK government implemented the Eat Out to Help Out scheme earlier this year as a result of the pandemic and as yet no such initiative has been developed on behalf of the retail sector who are in equal need of consumer support. Until Now. Our retailers have come together to ask their valued customers and fellow Londoners to show their support and help keep our nation’s shops alive.”
M&S, which is also extending its opening hours, is enabling shoppers to book a time for their visit, and says those who do so – via its Sparks loyalty app – will not have to queue.
O2 is using Qudini virtual queueing technology to limit queues outside its shops. Customers will join a virtual system and receive a text when an advisor is ready to see them.
John Lewis, too, is offering bookable shopping slots and virtual queueing in stores. Shoppers can pre-book a visit to a John Lewis store up to 14 days in advance. For those that don’t book ahead, customers will be able to join a virtual queue if there is a wait when they arrive.
Pippa Wicks, executive director at John Lewis, says: "We’re excited to reopen our shops in England and we’re looking forward to welcoming back our customers to help them make this Christmas extra special. Our priority is to make sure that they are able to shop as safely and easily as they can, whether in our shops or online, while continuing to be delighted and inspired by our Christmas offer.
“While the nation is famous for its love of queuing, we want to make sure that as temperatures drop, our customers have the chance to do their Christmas shopping in a comfortable, convenient way, however they choose to shop with us. Our partners have been busy making our shops look and feel as festive as ever and we hope that they will bring our customers some Christmas cheer as they prepare for the festive season”.
Many retailers are emphasising the use of click and collect as a safe and convenient way to pick up their online orders in-store. At more than 30 John Lewis and Waitrose stores, shoppers can opt to collect in a car park, staying in their car while a member of staff brings their order to them. At 98 branches of Waitrose, shoppers can check-in via their own phone when they arrive to pick up an order.