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As shops gradually reopen, merchants need to decide how best to protect their staff and their customers


There is, finally, some light at the end of the tunnel. At some point, the country is going to start coming out of lockdown, one step at a time.

Wine merchants are, of course, legally entitled to open already. The government classes them as essential service providers.

21069843_web1_200325-PQN-Social-distancing-signs-COVID_1Many – indeed probably the majority – have been nervous about allowing customers on to their premises, preferring to focus efforts on deliveries and collections. But as other types of shops start to resume conventional trading, more wine retailers will consider following suit.

We should bear in mind that Covid-19 is far from beaten and there are serious risks for retailers to consider.

Social distancing: For many wine shops, maintaining a two-metre distance between customers, and staff, is tricky. Marking out a grid system has worked for some larger stores; a one in, one out policy may be more practical.

Touching the merchandise: It’s not ideal for customers to handle bottles, but it’s a habit that has long been encouraged, especially when so much of the information about a wine is found on the back label. Merchants have reported that signage asking customers to refrain from touching stock they don’t intend to buy is (like a lot of Covid-related signage) frequently ignored.

Issuing disposable gloves for staff and offering hand sanitiser on the counter are reasonably straightforward steps to take. The benefits of wearing masks are gradually becoming more understood by the public – maybe retailers should take the lead.

Perspex screens would make many servers feel more protected, though how much practical use they would be in an open-plan store is open to question. Gavin Deaville of Handford Wines in London has a suggestion: “We’re considering various possibilities when we reopen. One is to move the layout of our shop so it’s more like the well-known spirits specialist Gerrys in Soho. They have a small area at the front for customers and the vast majority of the stock behind the shop counter.

“An alternative for those with small shops would be to pull a table in front of the front door so that no customer comes into the shop. It helps by reintroducing the customer interaction while still keeping a physical distance. But processing payments may be the Achilles heel.” So might the British weather.

There are some big challenges ahead for a trade that usually prides itself on its touchy-feely approach, sampling of the product, and communal experiences. But imaginative retailers will find a way through. Please share your ideas over the coming weeks and tell us what works, and what doesn’t.

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