Back to Work in Retail: What You Need to Know

Back to work - retail

This article outlines everything you need to know for a successful return back to work in retail.

Retail appears to be one of the more resilient industries in the UK, accumulating a total annual sales of £403 billion in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The sector makes up 5% of the Gross Value Added in the UK economy, accounts for about 33% of consumer spending, and employs 2.9 million people as of 2020. It does not mean the sector did not suffer from the financial downturn that resulted from the series of lockdowns imposed in the country. While eCommerce grew by 46%, overall retail experienced its lowest annual fall since 1997, dropping to 1.9% in total sales compared with 2019. 

The pandemic hit non-essential retail the hardest. While food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and other retailers that provide essential goods were permitted to operate, non-essential retail outlets, such as clothing stores, electronic shops, auction houses, and vehicle showrooms forced to shut down. The closures, temporary and permanent, caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs or go on leave of absence. 

On the bright side, the crisis is beginning to let up, with vaccines becoming more widely available and life slowly returning to normal. Per the roadmap out of lockdown, non-essential retail can re-open on 12 April 2021. However, returning to work in retail is not as simple as walking into your shop and doing trade as usual. Workplaces will have to adhere to new safety and health standards, many of which may be long-term. Every retailer has a different back to work plan depending on the kind of service it provides. However, there are significant factors that you should know to help you get back to business.

The Current Covid Guidance in UK 

The COVID-19 Guidance is a set of health and safety guidelines for people working in or managing stores, shops, branches, or similar venues, including food retailers, hardware or homeware stores, fashion boutiques, car dealerships, auction and antique houses, mobile phone stores, betting shops, and photography studios. The document suggests reasonable measures to help retailers keep their work environment secure and productive while reducing the risk of spreading coronavirus.  

The guide does not provide uniform rules that apply to all retailers, as every business is unique. You are free to adapt the guidelines into concrete steps that best suit the type and nature of your business. There are, however, priority actions that you need to follow to protect employees, customers, and other people in the workplace. The measures include cleaning more often, wearing protective gear or face covering, social distancing, providing adequate ventilation, and participating in NHS tests and trace.

Note that the COVID guidance is subject to revisions and may either add or remove specific measures to reflect changes in restrictions. Be sure to check the document regularly for updates and accuracy.

Risk Assessment 

The COVID-19 virus imperils not only your workers but also your customers. And like any other work hazard, you must manage, if not eliminate, the threat from the workplace. To do this, you need to complete the appropriate risk assessment. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), you need to identify the potential cause of virus transmission, determine who could get sick and how seriously, and take action to control the hazard if removing it is impossible.

Employers are required to consult and work with their employees or contractors who share the same premises to ensure the safety of everyone. The risk assessment must also undergo regular updates to incorporate any changes in legislation and ensure that the actions they are undertaking remain applicable. Among the most common measures of mitigating the risk of coronavirus in the workplace are social distancing, staggering work shifts, and providing more handwashing areas.

Keep in mind that neglecting to conduct a suitable risk assessment may be a breach of health and safety laws. The same is true with failure to implement sufficient steps that prevent the spread of coronavirus.


As mandated by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are legally obligated to protect the well-being of their workers and customers. This duty includes reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission in the workplace to the lowest level possible by employing preventive actions recommended by the HSE and local authorities.

The COVID-19 Secure guide identifies five essential steps to manage the risk of coronavirus and create a safer working environment. The first and most vital step is to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and share the results with the people on the premises.  

Businesses should implement hygiene procedures in the workplace, including installing washing facilities and providing workers with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if applicable. They should support employees who can work remotely to work from home to avoid overcrowding at the workplace. All retail outlets should impose the 2-meter apart rule. Lastly, they should implement countermeasures to handle transmission risk where people cannot maintain social distancing. Those who have followed the steps can display in their workplace the Staying COVID-secure notice to show their compliance.

Other protocols retail outlets should comply with are wearing face coverings, reducing the number of people within an enclosed space, and using barriers or screens to separate staff and visitors. Also, consider minimising face-to-face interactions as much as possible by promoting contactless payments. Many retail outlets and brick-and-mortar businesses have added a click-and-collect option where customers can purchase items online and pick them up at a selected location.


Having safety measures in place is not enough; the staff and customers must also be aware of these protocols. Putting up posters on social distancing at the shop entrance is a simple but helpful way to remind people about the 2-meter apart rule. Mark the floor with lines to guide customers where to stand to keep their distance from others. If the shopping space is small, consider posting a sign informing visitors that they should enter the area one at a time.

Ideally, stores should have separate entrance and exit points.  But if you have only one door, be sure that the waiting queue is a substantial distance away from the customer leaving the store.  Also, install handwashing facilities or sanitizers in the area.  Inform customers where to find these facilities by putting signages on entrances and exits.


The staff must thoroughly understand the COVID-secure guidance, including new terminologies, processes, rules, and regulations. They must also be fully aware of the safety measures the business is undertaking to prevent the spread of the virus. An online safe return to retail course can be done to navigate the changes and fresh staff after a long time off. 

Appropriate training and clear communication are vital tools to help employees know their roles and duties in keeping the workplace safe. Moreover, training serves as a venue for workers to share their concerns regarding the protocols.