How retail businesses can reopen safely

Re-opening your business in Back to Business

10 June 2020

As we start to move out of lockdown towards the so-called ‘new normal’ of life after coronavirus, how we work and how our businesses operate will change for the foreseeable future.

In a public statement on 26 May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that in England, “from the 15th of June, we intend to allow all other non-essential retail, ranging from department stores to small independent shops, to reopen… and will only be permitted to those retail premises which are COVID secure.”

It means that for many retailers in the country, it could be time to start examining your shops and stores to make them safe to reopen to customers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK Government has released a series of guidance documents on how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic, which contain the most up to date information. But AXA has put together a quick guide to some of the key risks, considerations and actions you should consider when getting your retail business, shop or store ready to reopen post-lockdown.


When can my shop reopen?

Essential shops like food retailers or chemists have been able to remain open since lockdown began in March. However, the UK Government has now announced plans to allow retail premises in England to begin to move out of lockdown.

For outdoor markets and car dealerships in England, the lockdown was lifted from 1 June, while all other ‘non-essential’ stores such as clothing retailers and bookshops can reopen from 15 June 2020 in England only, so long as their premises are ‘COVID-secure’. However, businesses such as hairdressers, nail and beauty salons and tattooists must remain closed.

Whether your business is essential or non-essential, these new COVID-secure guidelines apply to everyone. Even if your business never closed when the country moved into lockdown in March because your business was deemed ‘essential’, it’s still vital that you make sure you’re acting according to the new social distancing guidelines and safety procedures.

The initial easing of lockdown measures only apply in England for now, and the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will publish individual guidance on their own plans to lift lockdown separately. Visit the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Assembly for the most up to date information.

The UK Government’s official guidance remains that if you can work from home, you should continue to do so, and that nobody should work if your business is closed as a result of Government regulations. And whether you own a large retail outlet or a small high street shop remember: as always, if your work cannot be carried out safely it shouldn’t be carried out at all.


Getting ready to reopen

While it may be time to start thinking about reopening your shop, it’s certainly not going to be business as usual. In the present crisis, new guidelines and extra safety measures must be followed before it’s safe for you to open your doors to customers, and no matter how essential a business is, there are no grounds for departing from the minimum legal standards or your legal duty to do everything reasonably practicable to make the workplace safe for customers and employees. 

It’s important to review your working activities before restarting any work through a COVID-19 Compliance Risk Assessment. This means looking at your shop’s working areas, layout and customer footfall and considering what’s required to enable your employees and customers to stay at a safe distance. If you have fewer than five employees, your risk assessment doesn’t have to be in writing, but we would still advise this. You should involve your employees in the preparation of the risk assessment and share it with them when its completed.

Review all the areas of your work activity and look for contact points between you, any employees and any members of the public. Think about how these contact points can be avoided or minimised, if these can be managed within the correct 2m social distancing guidelines, and whether or not any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face coverings for staff or screens around tills and cash registers will be necessary.

If you or any of your employees has symptoms of COVID-19, stay away from work entirely. Anyone who lives alone and has symptoms should self-isolate at home for seven days from the date the symptoms started. Anyone who is not the first person in the household to have symptoms must stay at home for 14 days from the day when the first person in the house became ill. Anyone who has tested positive should self-isolate for 14 days.

If you have staff, talk to them before reopening about what your new ways of working might look like and what might be expected of them. Consider the minimum number of people you need in order to reopen your store. Make sure your staff are comfortable and fully informed before inviting them back to work, consider running training sessions for your staff before reopening your business and document these sessions for your records.


Reopening your shop

When planning to return to your shop’s regular functions, it’s your responsibility to make the workplace as safe as possible for staff, customers and other visitors.

You may not have visited your premises in a while, so perform a thorough check. Check your shop’s doors and windows as well as the security system and make sure they’re still safe, secure and functioning properly. Also perform safety checks on things like fire alarms and any equipment before use.



Before reopening, you must give the shop premises and deep and thorough clean.

Although the COVID-19 virus may not be able to survive long on hard surfaces it is advised that these

should be cleaned/sanitised thoroughly. You should only consider cleaning surfaces yourself if you have the correct protective equipment and materials to hand, or these are readily available. Otherwise, consider hiring a professional cleaner to do this for you.

If you’re doing the cleaning yourself, always work from clean to dirty areas to avoid spreading any contamination, prepare a schedule of cleaning steps and make sure to tick off the following:

Accessss points – clean doors and handles, any barriers, letterboxes, glass and floors.

Bathrooms and kitchens – shower rooms and WCs should be subjected to a deep clean and increased frequency of cleaning, especially if they are available for public use. Kitchen areas, taps, fridges.

Frequently used items – consider any items which are often handled or touched by either you, your staff or customers, including phones, laptops and screens, trolleys, keyboards, desks, vending machines and PIN pads.

Ongoing hygiene – remember to wash your hands regularly, use an alcohol-based sanitiser and wipes where possible when interacting with customers and/or the general public, and consider supplying these to customers when they enter and leave the shop.

Even after you reopen, you must continually clean your shop and increase your cleaning frequency to make sure the risk of contamination is minimised.

Coming and going

Your store’s entry and exit points are some of its most-used areas and one of the places you have to take particular care with in these current circumstances.

Where possible, try to stagger arrival and departure times for your staff and customers to reduce crowding in and out of the shop. Consider limiting the number of people into your store at any one time, depending on the size of the shop, to spread your customer footfall and avoid congestion.

If possible, try to arrange for a queue system outside your shop with clearly defined floor markings to allow customers to wait outside when the shop is busy while maintaining a two-metre distance. If you have other neighbouring shops or premises close by, you may have to work with your neighbours to agree a joint approach for this queuing system.

If you can, try to provide one door for entry and a separate door for exiting your shop, and provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser at these entry and exit points.


Social distancing in the shop

Inside your shop, you must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible. If it’s not possible to maintain any form of social distancing in your store, you should reconsider whether it’s safe to reopen at all.

  • Social distancing for your customers

As a business owner, you have a responsibility to your customers to keep them safe while they’re in your store.

Review the layout of your shop, taking into account your total floorspace and how customers generally move around the store to identify likely pinch points and busy areas like checkouts or narrow aisle spaces. Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m distance, and try to implement a one-way system around the shop to limit contact between customers while they browse. Consider if a protective screen around your till area would help keep staff distant from customers while they pay for their goods, and if this is something your store could put in place.

Encourage your customers to shop alone if they can, unless they need specific assistance, and remind customers shopping with children to supervise them at all times and follow social distancing guidelines. As they browse, ask customers to avoid handling products too much or only picking up a product if they intend to buy it in order to reduce surface contamination. Minimise contact points around transactions by only accepting contactless or card payments if you have the ability to do so. Some customers may choose to wear a face mask when shopping in your store, and this has been suggested by the UK Government too.

Consider cancelling certain customer services that you can’t safely do while maintaining social distancing, for example offering tailoring services where you need to take a customer’s measurements, or helping a customer to carry a heavy object to their car. If you can’t do it from two metres apart, always ask yourself if you should be doing it at all.  

  • Social distancing for you and your staff

If you’re the business owner and you’re the only person working in your shop, always maintain social distancing between yourself and your customers or any other visitors to the premises, wash your hands regularly and clean surfaces and other areas of the shop frequently.

If you employ staff, it’s your responsibility to them to take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk or transmission and contamination while you’re in your employment.

Try to reduce instances of cross contamination by having your staff stick to working in one place or station – for example having one member of staff assigned to one checkout point or stocking shelves in one aisle only. You can also reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams’ or partnering, so each person works with only a few others, and staggering entry, leaving and break times for staff.

If areas or workstations need to be shared, they should only be shared by the smallest possible number of people. Avoid having your staff working face-to-face by instead working side-by-side or facing away from each other.

Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time. That means bathrooms, break rooms, canteens and other areas must be set up to allow for social distancing too.

You should support your staff in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. Remind them to wash their hands thoroughly before putting a face covering on and after removing it, to avoid touching their face or face covering, and to change and wash the face covering daily.

Take care to monitor the wellbeing of all your staff, whether they’re working from home, on furlough, or returning to work. If you or any of your staff are concerned or anxious about returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic, talk through any concerns and try to resolve them together. The NHS also has some guidance which may help.


Deliveries and collections

It’s not just staff and customers of your shop who’ll need to be protected – you have to make sure anyone visiting your premises can do so safely, including delivery drivers, couriers and those replenishing your stock levels.

If your shop takes regular deliveries, review your usual drop-off points and procedures to minimise unnecessary contact between you, your staff and the courier. For example, try to allow for non-contact deliveries where items are left at a secure place, rather than handed to you or your staff, and consider reducing the frequency of deliveries by ordering larger quantities less often. If possible, avoid delivery staff using the front door where they are more likely to come into contact with customers.

If your store is offering deliveries or collections as part of your service, for example takeaway coffees or hand delivered items from your store, you should minimise contact during transactions by having designated pick up and drop off points and trying where possible to only accept transfers or contactless payments rather than cash.

For an in-depth look at how to manage the risks involved with re-opening your shop or store, take a look at AXA’s post-coronavirus start up guidance for retailers.


Next steps for reopening your retail business

If you’ve completed your risk assessments, cleaned your premises and equipment thoroughly, made the appropriate changes to your shop’s layout to allow for social distancing, and trained your staff in the new processes and procedures, you can share the results with your customers.

The UK Government have issued a notice you can display to show that you’ve followed the correct guidance and now feel ready to reopen your shop. You can download the notice here, and display it in your shop window once you’re ready to get back to business.

Working hard to support your business

These are unsettling times for everyone, and we want to do everything we can to keep you updated on how coronavirus (COVID-19) affects your business. Take a look at our coronavirus-specific help and advice section.