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UK Reveals When Apparel Retailers Could Reopen

Non-essential retailers across the United Kingdom are set to reopen on April 12, although the timing is still up in the air.

That’s because the devil will be in the data details, meaning that the four-step plan U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared on Monday is subject to change. Before the House of Commons, Johnson said that reopening decisions would be based on “data, not dates.”

Non-essential retailers have been locked down since Jan. 4, after the U.K. identified a more easily transmissible coronavirus variation. Johnson raised the opening of non-essential retailers as part of his plan’s Step Two. Step One entails schools reopening on March 8 and lifting some social restrictions on March 29. The timeline between phases is about five weeks, or four weeks to gather intelligence and one week to issue appropriate notices. Step Three, no sooner than May 17, will eliminate most social distancing restrictions. Five weeks later, or June 21 if there are no adjustments, Step Four would lift all remaining restrictions.

Decisions on adjustments in timing, if any, will be based on data from the vaccine rollout, and its impact on hospitalizations and deaths. In a perfect world, Johnson’s timetable could work provided no new Covid-19 variants or mutations. So far, about 17 million people in the U.K. have received their first vaccine doses.

The fashion and retail sectors have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many in 2020 collapsed into administration, including some very high profile names that included Laura Ashley, Debenhams, Oasis, Warehouse, Victoria’s Secret U.K., TM Lewin, L.K. Bennett, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Peacocks, Moss Bros. and Topshop and Topman parent Arcadia Group.

According to retail data group Springboard, foot traffic in the U.K. rose by 6.8 percent last week from the week before, only one-fifth less than the rise of 8.5 percent in the same year-ago week. The data firm said the latest result represents the fifth consecutive week of increases, even with a national lockdown in place.

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High streets fared better, with foot traffic up 10.5 percent, while shopping centers saw an increase of 4.5 percent. Activity at retail parks were up incrementally at 1.2 percent. Yet, despite the increase from last week, “footfall across all retail destinations remains 62.1 percent lower than in the same week last year.”

“You could be fooled into thinking that last week was a normal half term week rather than in the eighth week of a national lockdown, as footfall continued to rise for the fifth consecutive week. With the magnitude of increase continuing, this provides further evidence of significant pent up demand amongst shoppers to visit retail destinations and indication of the significant surge back to stores when non-essential retail reopens in the coming weeks/months,” Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said.