Luxury Roundtable: Reopening London Retail

A recent meeting of the French Chamber’s Luxury Club welcomed UK company directors representing a cross-section of major industry brands, including Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Vacheron Constantin, Fendi, Tiffany, De Beers, Ladurée and Chanel.

Held in a digital roundtable format, the meeting explored best practice on how brands are proceeding with the reopening of their retail operations in London, and how they plan to reengage with local clientele and communities in the context of the collapse of tourism and air travel following the outbreak of coronavirus.

Participants shared their experiences with overseas stores openings – as some markets have returned to in-store trading in recent weeks – and to their London-based preparations in line with official guidance. The meeting was held as the government outlines its strategy for gradually easing lockdown restrictions across England and shops set to reopen in June.

An important issue for many in the meeting was how to adapt safety and cleaning protocols to the luxury shopping experience expected of their brand. While it was acknowledged that customers do expect a level of disruption, there are lingering questions to how they will react to social distancing and PPE in the shop environment.

It was noted that consistent communication, such as in-store information and visuals, will help to ensure a safe and relatively seamless experience for shoppers and staff. Trading hours will be restricted, with many shops opening from 11am to 6pm for staff to avoid travelling at peak times, and some shops will offer shopping by appointment. Brands are also exploring the optimisation of remote shopping through chat platforms such as WhatsApp for Business, following trends in WeChat for the Chinese market.

Company directors were balancing the guidance from their global headquarters with the safety protocols set by the British government and Public Health England. There was a view expressed in the meeting that British protocols were not as stringent or specific as those in other countries where they are operating stores. France opened shops from 11 May in line with strict social distancing measures and compulsory masks on public transport, while in Germany, where all shops reopened as of 9 May, customers must not be made to stand in line and only a single customer is permitted per 20 square meters.

In many countries outside of the UK, PPE consisting of masks and gloves – and in some cases visors – for sales assistants is the norm, and it was said that this approach was being taken voluntarily to store operations in London despite the flexibility of the UK guidance, in addition to providing hand sanitisers and regular cleaning and disinfection. Some brands are implementing digital tools to monitor cleaning regimes and staff interactions in the event that a case of the virus is identified.

Brands were also considering whether to implement temperature testing of staff and perhaps customers. In doing so, they would be replicating approaches adopted by airports and other public buildings. However, there were questions about the extent a temperature screening process might help with staff and customer confidence, as well as how to appropriately interact and inform those patrons who present with a temperature exceeding the guidance.

On the question of stock maintenance, fashion brands were investing in steaming machines to clean clothes after they have been tried on and restocked. Some also planned only to return clothes to the shop floor after a twenty-four-hour period had elapsed.

Cleaning and disinfection of jewellery is also planned for, though in some specific instances where disinfection is not possible – for example with pearls – pieces will only be available to view. Customers will be required to wear gloves before handling leather goods, as cleaning and disinfection can be harmful to the item.

While participants expressed confidence in these and other regular cleaning processes, as well as in the rigorous monitoring and management that the processes require, it was noted that these are truly unique trading conditions and much will be learned in the early days of implementation, both internally and in a customer-facing capacity.

As London’s luxury shops are poised to reopen, it is yet to be seen how the capital’s clientele and communities will embrace the ‘new normal’ on the shop floor, and whether the standardisation of protocols across the luxury retail environment is key to drawing customers back into the shops.

 

The French Chamber’s Luxury Club is co-chaired by Tom Meggle, Founder and Director of Momentom 8, and Sylvie Freund Pickavance, Director of Strategy and Business Development at The Bicester Village Shopping Collection. Please visit the Club’s webpage for more information.

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