Since the UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19, many businesses have been struggling to survive.

Now, almost three months later, Boris Johnson has outlined the first steps towards re-opening small and mid-size businesses, including those in the retail and hospitality sectors.

When the Prime Minister announced a lockdown on 23rd March, to stop the spread of coronavirus, the whole of Britain was ground to a halt almost immediately. It has been a challenging time for the nation’s 5.86 million SMBs, who employ around 16.6 million people.

How many businesses have been closed?

Apart from those businesses classed as essential, such as food shops and chemists, much of the retail sector has been temporarily closed. All sectors have also been affected, such as the service, leisure & hospitality industry. Restaurants, cafes, and pubs have been closed, although they have been permitted to run a takeaway and delivery food service.

According to a survey by not-for-profit organisation Be the Business, 39% of SMBs have been closed completely, equating to around 228.5 million enterprises. Others have operated a reduced or online-only service.

Despite the government’s furlough scheme, ensuring employees receive 80% of their wages, businesses that normally rely on a high footfall of customers have felt the impact of the closure.

How should SMBs prepare to reopen?

There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, as some businesses can soon start trading again. The Prime Minister announced non-essential shops could reopen on 15th June, if safety measures are put into place. This includes shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, and furniture. These stores were given three weeks’ notice by the PM to install the relevant measures to protect staff and customers. So, if you are a business that is looking to start trading again and feeling confused by all the measures that you need to put into place. Here are 6 top tips to help you get on track.

1. Conduct a risk assessment

As the UK begins to come back to life following the lockdown, businesses planning on reopening again should carry out a risk assessment first, in line with guidance from the Health and Safety Executive, to make sure they’re on the right track.

2. Put special social-distance precautions into place

As with other businesses – such as supermarkets – retailers should limit the number of customers in the shop at any one time by monitoring the entrance and exit. They are advised to erect signs reminding people about social distancing rules. The local authorities will carry out spot checks to make sure the guidelines are being followed.

3. Encourage good hygiene practices in your premises

Customers must be advised to avoid touching items they aren’t going to buy when browsing. They should also be encouraged to use hand sanitiser, which the stores can provide at various points, including at the entrance.

Once cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures are in place, encourage staff to follow the guidance, while also frequently cleaning and disinfecting areas that are touched regularly.

4. Create a clear purchasing & returns policy

The fitting rooms in clothes stores won’t be open. Shops can accept returns, but they must hold them for 72 hours before the stock can be put out on sale again. Shops selling items that are touched regularly, such as sofas, chairs, and beds, should provide protective coverings.

The government has been in discussion with business groups about a scheme to let shops label themselves “COVID-19 Secure” when they follow the guidelines.

5. Encourage contactless payments

Essential businesses that remained open during lockdown encouraged shoppers to pay by contactless cards to limit the amount of cash-handling and physical contact between staff and customers. Any business that is reopening after lockdown is encouraged to adopt the same procedure.

Today’s payment technology enables easy contactless payments and mobile terminals, as both checkout operators and customers feel safer limiting cash-handling.

6. Review your payment technology

Have you switched your card terminal on since lockdown? Does your card terminal need charging? Have you checked that your card terminal is working? Is your current card terminal suitable for your needs post lockdown?

Having the latest card payment technology means small and mid-size businesses aren’t falling behind their larger rivals, as they can reap the rewards of reliable payment methods.

Using a trusted payment solution has never been so important, especially for pubs, restaurants, and retailers – who will potentially witness a surge when social restrictions continue to loosen. Talks are ongoing about the possibility of letting pub beer gardens reopen on 22nd June. This hasn’t been finalised yet and discussions continue. Currently, the main debate is focusing on whether it’s safe to reduce the current two-metre rule, which would open up more possibilities for pubs and restaurants. Making sure that you have reliable payment technology in place to handle this surge in business is critical.

What’s next?

The government has also revealed it hopes to allow other SMBs, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, to open again in July. It depends on the advice from health chiefs on how safe this will be, but at the moment, the situation is looking more positive for the millions of businesses who have been closed.

Once the safety measures are in place, and as we adapt to the “new normal” in terms of operational practices and customer service, many industry sectors are looking forward to seeing the green shoots of recovery, following some of the most challenging times in living memory.