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Job Vacancies and Searches Surge as UK Retail Closes in on Reopening

British retailers are gearing up to get things back in business.

John Lewis readies a return

John Lewis Partnership on Tuesday confirmed its plan to reopen retail on April 12, the date long seen as a return to something resembling normal for British high streets all but emptied amid rising coronavirus infections.

The announcement follows U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s confirmation on Monday that businesses, including fashion and home retailers, can reopen beginning next week. The restart for nonessential retailers follows a three-month lockdown that began at the start of 2021 after the U.K. discovered a highly infectious variant of the Covid-19 virus.

John Lewis said it will reopen shops in England and Wales next Monday. The Glasgow location is set to open on April 26, while the newly refurbished Edinburgh shop is scheduled to open on May 14.

“From opening our changing rooms to help customers find the right fit, restarting children’s shoe fitting, in-person nursery appointments, to providing Home Design advice, Personal Styling appointments and technology support—there are lots of ways our Partners will be helping customers get their lives back on track ahead of the summer,” John Lewis said in a statement.

Fitting rooms will be open with safety measures in place. In addition, stores will have “customer service hosts” who will welcome customers and answer questions, while managing customer numbers, queues at entrances and busy areas of the shop. The retailer said protective screens will be set up at locations where social distancing cannot be achieved. The retailer’s contactless payment limit was raised to 45 pounds $62) from 30 pounds ($41) and will be increased to 100 pounds ($138) by the end of the year. Further, the company is also simplifying returns via new drop boxes, and quarantining returned stock for 48 hours.

The retailer said next day Click & Collect services will also resume in John Lewis shops.

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“We are delighted to be welcoming our much-missed customers into our shops once more. We’re looking forward to reuniting customers with the joy of physical shopping, along with the excitement of our stores whilst also introducing our customers to stylish new products at prices they won’t expect,” Pippa Wicks, partner and executive director at John Lewis, said. “We’re also excited to be opening up much-needed services and helping customers choose those items that are harder to buy online—from the perfect mattress, to road testing the right pram or finding the right pair of jeans. We want to make sure the shopping experience is as fun and inspiring as it’s ever been, while also ensuring that our customers and Partners feel safe.”

The U.K. government had previously released guidelines for retailers regarding fitting rooms, after ordering them closed following the first lockdown last year. And while not mandated, the government did advise that fashion retailers include a store associate to control entry into the fitting room, allow one person at a time and leave a gap of time between customers using the space. It also suggested that fitting rooms continued to be cleaned at regular intervals. But one item not addressed by the new guidelines was what to do about sanitizing apparel items that were tried on, but not bought.

M&S sees strong interest in fashion

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer is readying the reopening of its stores in England and Wales on April 12. The chain said its data shows that nearly two-thirds of its customers are “looking forward to dressing up in smarter or more stylish clothes than they have worn in lockdown,” with steady digital growth for dresses since the end of February while search increases for spring-ready sandals and sunglasses spiking over the past week. M&S’ “new in” womenswear page is now the most-visited part of its e-commerce site, it added.

“We know lots of customers are excited about dressing up for picnics and alfresco dining with friends & family and our stores will be bursting with tiered dresses, pretty tops and new seasonal denim,” said Alison Grainger, head of clothing & home for retail at M&S. “Whilst it’s no longer all just about loungewear, as you would expect we’re going to be dedicating more space to casualwear in our shops than pre-pandemic.

“In store customers will also see wardrobe essentials redefined—with relaxed T-shirts and sweats which have now become mainstays updated in fresh, vibrant [colors],” Grainger added. “Optimistic slogan tops have been popular online, and I think lots of customers will pick these up when they visit us in store.”

Retail job vacancies rising

What’s more, new research from Indeed shows that retailers in the U.K. are on a hiring spree as they set the stage to welcome shoppers back through their doors. The world’s largest site for finding a new job said its analysis of hiring by non-food retailers shows “they are now enjoying a renaissance.” Primark landed at the No. 5 spot on a Top 10 list of non-essential retailers posting the largest number of new jobs since February, followed by footwear giant Clarks at No. 6. Go Outdoors, a chain that sells gear and apparel for adventuring, came in at No. 9.

Consumers are showing strong interest in securing jobs at Britain’s mega chains. Indeed’s research, published Wednesday, says “Primark” is the fastest-growing search term on its site, with interest in the brand leaping by 201 percent in just two weeks. John Lewis is next, with searches up 43 percent and Marks & Spencer has seen queries for its vacancies climb 23 percent, according to Indeed.