The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has seen businesses close across the country, losing their revenue stream for weeks and in some cases even months. With the UK government having now given the green light for businesses to start lifting the shutters again, all eyes are on British retail as it kickstarts and tries to find its way in a world after COVID-19.
With reports from Barclaycard suggesting a 60% growth in UK retail transactions, could the country really be heading back towards business as usual, or is this the calm before the storm of a recession?
The return of retail
In England, at least, shops classed as “non-essential” could open their doors from 15 June – provided that they could make their premises safe for customers practising social distancing. Of course, whilst the government can readily assign a status to types of retailers, small business owners will know that there’s no such thing as “non-essential” when it comes to the shop that creates your income.
In the first few weeks of shops returning from their enforced coronavirus hiatus, there have been encouraging signs that the economy might stay afloat. Recently published figures show a 60% jump in retail transactions during the first full week of trading since March. These figures will no doubt vary in the weeks to come, but a growing number of transactions and a boost in retail activity is surely a positive sign that the UK has begun its commercial recovery.
A high street makeover
General statistics aside, it’s clear that no matter what the numbers say the UK’s retail landscape has been changed by the lockdown. As reported by LondonLovesBusiness, the pandemic has seen the public turn to supermarket shopping with increased vigour as the UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco confirmed a rise in-store sales of 8.7% during the three months to 30 May. With a similar picture across other supermarket chains, it’s easy to assume that the public’s new approach to shopping was due simply to the lack of choice available during the lockdown. It’s worth considering the alternative though – that in a time when social distancing has become the new normal, the public want to shop for all that they need in a single convenient location.
Another retail trend that has swept the land is an en masse movement towards eCommerce. In another business exclusive broken by LondonLovesBusiness, an 80% decline in high street footfall during the lockdown has resulted in the continued success of online shopping. Returning again to the example of supermarket giants, Tesco has seen a huge 48.5% rise in sales showing that the public have truly become comfortable with buying on the internet.
How contactless payments are boosting business
It’s not just the way we shop that’s been changed by coronavirus, though. The way that customers pay for goods and services has changed too – not least because of social distancing guidelines. With retailers trying to eliminate contact points wherever possible, contactless payments have entered the mainstream in a big way.
Health-conscious customers seem keener than ever to make card payments without having to touch the chip and PIN pad, but their enthusiasm for contactless has also been helped along by changes to the rules. As of 1 April 2020, the UK’s contactless payment limit has been increased from £30 to £45 – making it possible to pay for much more than before. According to Barclaycard, they have already processed almost 40,700,000 contactless transactions of amounts higher than the previous £30 limit, with a total combined value of over £1.4 billion. The global economy might be struggling, but it’s obvious that the UK public are ready and willing to embrace new ways of making card payments and support British retail along the way.
A new way of working
For those retailers who’ve been reluctant to change their approach to payment solutions, now could be the opportunity time to reconsider and bring your transactions in line with consumer expectations. From Borough Market to Birmingham, Spitalfields to Strathclyde, contactless payments are the calling card of businesses that are ready to conquer the market after COVID-19.
One provider offering an innovative package of payment solutions is UTP Group, who themselves have adjusted to the pandemic by making it possible to apply for a merchant services account online. With a full range of contactless-enabled card machines, portable card readers and online eCommerce payment gateways, retailers could benefit from taking a flexible approach to customer payments.
British retail might just be waking up from an extended lockdown hibernation, but that doesn’t mean that UK businesses cannot be at the forefront of payment technology.