Why uncertainty requires a Great British Reboot

New beginnings

Updated | 17.06.20

After 84 days in lockdown, where most of our familiar ‘bricks and mortar’ stores were temporarily forced to close, retail was given the eagerly awaited green light to reopen again this week (15 June 2020). For many, it was a day that could not come soon enough.

In the long days of isolation, much has changed. Positively, sentiment from the British public towards retail workers has never been so high. Supermarket staff are now celebrated as ‘food heroes’ – key workers who, just by ‘doing their job’, helped to feed the nation during the height of lockdown.

During this, stores with online operations supported British families with all manner of essential wellbeing items and welcomed treats. Box-by-box, couriers have delivered – handing over much needed moments of joy that have helped to lift our spirits. But the simple act of visiting stores whenever and wherever we liked, became an increasingly distant memory.

New restrictions and general health guidance about how to do business safely.

When the pandemic began, we commented that it was too early to predict how retail life would look post Covid-19. Now one thing is confirmed: shopping in-store will never be the same again.

As we enter the next phase of the government’s post-pandemic strategy, the easing of restrictions for general retailers has been accompanied by a raft of new ways of working and general health guidance to do business, and shop, safely.

Shoppers can expect to see strict management of social distancing measures, including for now, the 2 metre distance rule. Other steps introduce and reinforce hygiene practices such as encouraging the use of free hand sanitiser. New restrictions to prevent shoppers making physical contact with merchandise will be found including: preventing people trying on clothes and banning testing of makeup. Generally, shoppers will be required to switch to making card payments instead of using cash. Expect floor marking tape, health notices, the use of plastic barrier screens and staff wearing face masks and visors. The closure of in-store toilets will also make shopping trips less easy and comfortable for some to contemplate. The shopping ‘experience’ is a very different one to that, only just a few months ago. And likely so, for some time yet.

Retailing profitably from ‘physical stores’ will become even harder.

Aside from physical restrictions, human psychology has likely erected some powerful barriers within us over the past months. There’s no doubt that some people will be wary, if not afraid, of mixing together in public. From walking in narrow shopping streets to being within confined malls, our new embedded psychological concerns will lead to fundamental behavioural changes. As some shoppers adopt a mentality of constant fear and a perceived state of crisis, the easier option for many will be to continue to stay away from the shops and buy online from home.

The result will likely see both footfall and sales volumes instore subdued for the many months to come. And with the added costs of implementing the new safety measures for months ahead, retailing profitably from ‘physical stores’ will become even harder. We should not be surprised if even more retailers find life increasingly difficult as a result of Covid-19.


Innovation and ingenuity will be needed to get business back on track, with effective new ways to ‘reboot retail’.

Whatever the drivers, the new post-pandemic reality will undoubtedly see reduced levels of discretionary spending. Everyone in the industry knows that difficult times still lie ahead. And retailers are going to have to work hard at every level. Not just to prepare for reopening safely, but for reaching out to shoppers and reassuring people to start ‘physically’ shopping again.

However you look at it, this will not simply be a case of brands reopening stores. For some in retail, the situation is perilous. There are mountains of unsold stock to clear through, and cashflow pressure will force unpredictable sales, chaotic promotional activity and the unseasonal hibernation of Spring 2020 stock to be remarked in desperate attempts to be resold next year. This is all still a very long way off from ‘business as usual’.

Innovation and ingenuity will be needed to get business back on track, with effective new ways to ‘reboot retail’. Retailers will have to quickly reorganise themselves as socially distanced stores with leaner, more versatile operations.

Visual Thinking is proud to stand by you, shoulder-to-shoulder, as we have done time and again for more than 25 years. Britain truly is a ‘Nation of shopkeepers’. Whether big business or family indie: UK plc needs you all. Let’s get back to work, and to doing what we do best.

If you have missed any of our posts recognising great #GreatBritishRetailers – you can catch them all here:

Great British Retail Gallery | Part One

Great British Retail Gallery | Part Two

Great British Retail Gallery | Part Three


Great British Retailers:


Holland & Barrett

Daylesford Farm

John Lewis & Partners





House of Hackney

Neals Yard Remedies





Thomas Pink


The White Company



Paul Smith

Liberty of London

JD Sports

Pets At Home

Molton Brown


Fortnum & Mason

Charlotte Tilbury

Joseph Cheaney

Hotel Chocolat

By Karl McKeever

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