“Indies will have to adapt to make the most of changing lifestyles,” says Bira CEO

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Andrew Goodacre, CEO at Bira, discusses the impact new working habits could pose on retailers

“The end of Plan B restrictions in England seems to be good news for retail so far, but let’s hope it is not being done for political expediency as opposed to sound scientific evidence.

We completed a snap poll with Bira members last month and 50 per cent of indies were concerned about the lifting of restrictions because of employee safety and consumer confidence. Similar to last year and the so called ‘Freedom Day,’ restrictions were removed when new case numbers are still very high. With such a huge number of people still catching covid, it seems counter intuitive to remove restrictions, no matter how welcome it might be.

“Retailers tell me that they would rather we are absolutely sure that we have beaten Omicron. This is because bringing back restrictions in March would be much worse for business than retaining restrictions for a couple more weeks in February.

“With Plan B ending there has also been a lot of talk about people returning to work in the offices. I have mixed views on this because people working from home has largely been beneficial to indie retailers. With more people working where they live, we have seen a resurgence in local shopping, and we can expect this to continue in 2022. However, at the same time, we hope that those businesses reliant on office workers, tourists and transient shoppers will see a welcome return of sales in the near future.

“Talking about the way people work, we have recently seen reports advocating a four-day working week, with some experts claiming it would be good for the high street. I was asked for my comments on this topic, and I believe that more leisure time is normally good for the high street – bank holidays are a good example. However, if every week contained a bank holiday, there is a danger the overall positive impact would diminish over time. Obviously, a four-day week should not just be for office workers. And it would out pressure on other businesses, including retailers, to develop a more flexible approach.

“The argument for a four-day week suggests that workers are more productive, but I remain unconvinced that we would see improvements in productivity in the retail sector. Nevertheless, we should not have closed minds to these topics as changes often present unexpected benefits.

“With all these debates taking place, it’s absolutely clear that in terms of how people work, behaviours have changed for good. Flexibility, work life balance and wellbeing are here to stay. I firmly believe that changes invariably create opportunities, and independent retailers will have to adapt to make the most of changing lifestyles. This may result in changing hours for opening shops or adopting even more technology. Whatever the outcome and the trends that develop, retailers will have to be proactive to find the optimum solution.”