Retailers gearing up for ‘phased’ reopening of shops

Leading retailers are considering phased opening of travel agencies starting with locked-door policies and moving to include measures such as distanced desks, protective screens and even customers engaging with agents on computer screens in-store.

Tailor Made Travel, Barrhead Travel and Midcounties Co-operative Travel told a Travel Weekly webcast they have already begun to draw up plans for a gradual return to the high street.

The retailers said they were likely to operate locked-door policies before opening to the public using desk screens and floor markings, and offering appointments in store or virtually. There will be fewer agents working in branches initially.

Tailor Made Travel owner Simon Morgan said he had been planning what health and safety measures he would need to re-open even before he closed his network down.

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“Before we even shut the shops down, I was thinking about reopening them. So we put health and safety protocols into play where we bought masks, we bought gels, we bought antibacterial sprays and wipes, and wrote a policy around not touching each other etc.

“This has now been blown up into a bigger document with more and more procedures. We’ve put screens into half a dozen of shops already.”

He said his team had already started virtual appointments on Zoom and saw that continuing even when shops re-opened, and also predicted clients may come into a shop and talk to an agent through a computer screen, rather than in person.

“We started virtual consultation three weeks ago, and we’re averaging eight or nine appointments a day at the moment. The great part about Zoom of course, as we’re demonstrating now, is that you can record it and that means a lot of the risks are taken away from misinformation

“So I certainly think that virtual consultations will continue, certainly for the more vulnerable, definitely for disabled clients. It’s going to be a facility that we will have in our offices – a station dedicated to virtual appointments.”

He added that reduced staffing guidelines might also mean customers would come into his branches as speak to agents through the computer screen.

“As we come out of the furlough scheme, when we can have only ones and twos in stores, we can turn the computer around and tend to clients without having a member of staff there. They can chat to a member of staff who’s ‘inside’ a computer. And again, that solves the distancing issues.”

Midcounties Co-operative Travel head of retail Natalie Turner said the group could learn from its supermarkets, which have traded through the lockdown.

The group has surveyed customers, who said social distancing was their top concern. This will mean many Co-operative Travel stores will only have two desks in operation initially.

She said: “We will pilot screens in our travel branches; it’s a given expectation, and hand sanitiser accessibility. To start with we will not allow any customers in branches and when we do will adhere to the two metre distancing.”

Barrhead Travel product and commercial director Caroline Donaldson said the chain was considering all aspects of reopening, from employees getting into work to different shift patterns, seating arrangements, floor tapes and protective personal equipment.

“We are working through all possibilities,” she said.

Part of the return to the high-street will also depend on staff, with some unable to return because they fall into the vulnerable category or have children who are not yet back in school,  added Turner.

Midcounties Co-operative is in the process of polling its employees about their return to work and what they would like to see in place.

Turner said: “The vast majority can’t wait as long as they have the appropriate PPE but some are a little apprehensive or are not in a position to return to branch. The virtual call centre may suit some of our colleagues to continue doing that from home.”

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