Shoppers are ready to hit the pavements after weeks of national lockdown, as new research from O2 has found that 62% missed going into physical shops during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions – a 12% increase since July, and 65% are planning to go back to the high street for things they would have brought online during lockdown.

Additionally, 90% are looking forward to the opening of non-essential retail stores and 24% are drawn to shopping in person due to the enjoyment of the atmosphere.

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As retailers across the UK prepare for the reopening of non-essential retail, bosses at the mobile network O2 are backing the nation’s high streets, with a £4.4m cash injection to ensure stores are ready for a ‘new generation’ of shopping. O2 has already invested £3.1m in store facelifts nationwide since January, and is expected to add a further £1.3m by mid-2021.

The new store refits make greater use of the shop space, providing a fresh look and feel which includes new store furniture.  O2 has also replaced all existing lighting with energy efficient LED lamps, as part of its work to become the UK’s first net zero mobile network.

Shops in locations including Romford, Perth and Grimsby stand to benefit, with O2 investing in smaller out of town premises, as the pandemic changes the way customers choose to shop.

New holographic technology will also appear at the front of Flagship stores – at The O2, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham – injecting something new onto the high street to help encourage customers back into stores. The hologram will take the form of Bubl – O2’s loyal and reliable blue robot – who will be helping to ensure customers have the best possible service as well as demonstrating new products.

In addition, O2 also continued to invest in its people with a comprehensive customer service programme prior to reopening to help ensure a fantastic customer experience for all shoppers.

Director of Sales and Service Gareth Turpin said: “We know that customers are more comfortable than ever with online shopping. But that’s only part of the picture – and we’ve heard loud and clear the benefits that high street stores bring. Our knowledgeable staff are on hand with advice, and products are available to try out before you buy.

“Now we’re making sure our stores are ready for what customers really need – and we’re committed to supporting the British high street as lockdown lifts.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Digital connectivity has never been more important, so I am delighted that O2 is getting ready to open its doors to customers again from April 12th. We’re investing millions and removing barriers to bring superb mobile coverage to even the hardest to reach parts of the UK, so it is great news that O2 is upgrading stores to help get more customers connected as we build back better with futureproofed digital infrastructure.”

 Travel and shopper movement changes during pandemic

Even during periods where retail has opened, the pandemic has shifted behaviour. Shoppers are now more likely to visit a local town centre, which stands to benefit locations including Chester-Eastgate, Staines, St Albans and Watford.

Reopening safely

O2 will be redeploying technology rolled out last year to ensure staff and customer can access stores safely, ensuring they are COVID safe environments. This will include virtual queuing technology, allowing all customers to skip the queues and instead join a virtual system, receiving a text when an advisor is ready to assist them in a personal one to one appointment.

O2’s store teams will also implement the following process in stores:

  • Social distancing measures throughout each store, with clear two metre floor markings
  • Personalised service with a limit on the number of customers in-store at any one time
  • Appointment system to make sure customers are not held in unnecessary queues or kept waiting
  • Contactless payment limit has been increased to £45 with email receipts.
  • All employees will be equipped with the appropriate PPE, including face coverings
  • Screens at all open service areas
  • Enhanced cleaning processes across stores with all product displays, furniture and chairs to be sanitised after every customer

NHS and Care Workers who show their ID badges will also be given VIP access to skip the queue to speak to an advisor in store.

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