Nov 9, 2020
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M&S and supermarkets block access to clothing due to English lockdown rule

Nov 9, 2020

There has been some confusion over what retailers that remain open during the English lockdown can and can't sell. Following similar confusion in Wales recently, the lockdown rules have forced stores, including M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco to cordon off some parts of their retail spaces.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

The guidance for England is that shops that have "sufficiently distinct parts" should close the areas that are selling non-essentials.

This actually covers many of the large supermarkets that sell fashion, as well as shops like M&S where the food department is very clearly differentiated.

But the rules seem to be applied sporadically at the moment with no consistency, leaving some shoppers angry that they can't get to the non-essentials areas while others have been shopping for non-essentials quite easily.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “In line with new Government guidance in England which requires the closure of separate floors selling non-food items, we have closed the Clothing and General Merchandise departments in our stores that sell these products from a separate mezzanine level.

M&S has had to close half of its clothing and home areas, which is reportedly more than the 20% it had originally thought it would have to shut.

Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the definition of what is essential and what isn't seems to be fairly “arbitrary”.

This can be seen from the fact that in Asda on Saturday, for instance, kids’ dressing-up costumes were on sale, even though kids' schoolwear or babywear in a separate area of a supermarket might be cordoned off, while a specialist shop selling such clothing would have had to close. 

It all means still-open retailers will also have to furlough more of their staff than had been expected, which will cost the Government more money as well.

And in addition to the lack of clarity over the lockdown rules, retail is also seeking clarity over when and if it will be able to reopen next month. It's the all important Christmas shopping season at the moment and in theory, the lockdown ends on December 2.

But John Lewis Partnership operations director Andrew Murphy has urged the government to make it clear that retailers will be able to open after that date.

While John Lewis has redeployed many of its staff to its online operations and to its Waitrose supermarkets, it also takes on large numbers of temporary staff at this time of year and needs to know what to do about this.

Murphy said he wasn't trying to pressure the government into reopening too early but that clarity was essential. He said the new lockdown “has put a boot through four of the seven most profitable weeks of the year. That’s everyone, not just John Lewis”.

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