From Wednesday 3 December, England will return to an altered version of the tier system that the country saw before its second national lockdown, which ran through most of November.

Non-essential retailers will be able to remain open across all three tiers from Wednesday, provided they can “operate in a COVID-secure manner”.

Additionally, the Job Support Scheme and Local Restrictions Support Grant have both been updated to support retailers at this time.

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There are some worries, however, that the public’s fears could impact footfall for bricks-and-mortar retail.

The government’s advice to work from home if at all possible could have a negative effect on shops, particularly in commuter-heavy areas like central London.

“For us,” Harriet Kelsall, founder and chair of Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design, tells Professional Jeweller, “both London and Cambridge have been really quiet, even before the second lockdown, because not many people have felt confident about coming to city centres, so it has been difficult.”

Despite this challenge, Kelsall seems mostly happy with the way the UK Government has aided businesses since March.

Harriet-Kelsall-web
Harriet Kelsall

“Compared to some other countries,” she said, “the government support for businesses during this pandemic has been very good.

“We feel lucky to have been able to keep every single one of our 40 staff on with lots of help from the furlough scheme and the Job Support Scheme, and we were able to get grants for two of our premises.”

Ashley Pugh, managing director of W Bruford in Eastbourne, Sussex, agreed: “Thus far as a business, we aren’t unhappy with the overall support that we have received from the government.

“The furlough scheme and full rates relief have been very helpful, and the grants from local council have also been welcome.”

However, both jewellers did have one bone to pick with the government.

Kelsall explained: “The biggest problem for us has been the fact that we have to keep paying high rent on our London shop, even when it had to be closed.

“The landlords are not supportive and the rent was too high for a grant there.

“It would have been great to see the government insisting that landlords discount rent substantially for the period of March to December this year.”

Pugh concurred: “I do feel that some of the larger landlords could have helped by giving reduced rents while we have been closed.

“Obviously they are under the same pressure as ourselves,” the MD conceded, “but it does feel as though we have taken most of the pain.”

Ashley Pugh

He also added his displeasure that there has not been support for business owners and directors in regards to the loss of dividend payments.

“While I do appreciate this has been a nightmare for the government,” Pugh said, “business owners and directors have generally continued to work to keep their businesses going.”

Despite some issues with the way the government has dealt with the pandemic, both jewellers are largely optimistic as they look ahead to reopening and Christmas.

Kelsall said: “We are very much looking forward to opening our shops again, all of which are in tier 2.

“We feel positive about the rules in this tier and think that people will come out and Christmas shop.”

Looking further ahead, to 2021, she added: “We are confident that with a bit of time and determination we can build back up despite fairly low footfall.

“What we noticed before is that even though footfall was down, people coming out were keen to buy, and conversion rates were higher. We hope that will remain the case despite the tier system.”

Pugh of W Bruford told Professional Jeweller that the store is trying to not use the situation as too much of an excuse or crutch. He revealed it will instead be focusing mostly on “meeting customers’ expectations and delivering the levels of customer service that pride ourselves on”.

Kelsall, meanwhile, concluded: “I see the system as a way of making sure that as many of us as possible can open for business rather than carrying on with full lockdown.”