How to safely shop for freedom

5 min read
April 19, 2021

When it comes to easing of lockdown rules, there are two groups of people. Those who rush out on the first day for haircuts, shopping sprees and drinks – and those who chose to wait it out to see what happens. 

If you’re part of the latter, then you may well have despaired about scenes of queues outside certain cut-price retailers. But don’t worry – now things have settled down a bit, here’s what you need to know if you’re popping to the shops.

In the last year, complaints about online shops and deliveries have hit extraordinary levels with more than a quarter of a million about online shops alone. So I for one am all for a return to the high street (following the rules, of course). Try to support your local, independent shops first – they need your help the most. And you’ll miss them if they go. 

Shopping around the UK

The rules are still different around different parts of the UK – so be aware of the differences if you’re planning on crossing a border – including the travel rules. In Scotland, though some shops were able to open earlier, non-essential retailers aren’t likely to open until 26 April.. Outdoor drinking and dining doesn’t open till that day in Wales – though shops and hairdressers are open. This is changing rapidly though so keep an eye on new announcements.

Queues and masks

Covid restrictions are still in place, so don’t be surprised if you have to queue in the streets to get into certain shops. A big area of complaint in the last year when it came to shopping in the real world was mask wearing and enforcement. It’s unfair to expect shops to act like the police by dealing with aggressive mask dodgers. But expect a much tougher enforcement of the rules than previously. In Northern Ireland, ‘click and collect’ is back on at non-essential stores – but not browsing for now. 

Metres matter

The two-meter rule is still in effect and isn’t due to be reconsidered officially until 17 May. How this works in practice is anyone’s guess, as you may have noticed if you’ve been to a supermarket over lockdown. Do try to stick to the rules where possible – every little obedient action helps increase our changes of further restrictions being lifted. 

Extended opening hours

Shops will be allowed to extend their opening hours to 10pm from Monday to help space out shoppers and avoid congestion. So why not plan a later shopping spree after the initial rush? As savvy sales fans know, supermarkets tend to restock their shelves or mark down items in the evening, so it’s a good time to find a scarce item or get a bargain. 

Changing rooms 

After the first lockdown ended and shops could reopen, many people were surprised to find changing rooms still closed. It’s likely that this will stay the case for the time being. The age-old problem of whether items will fit (or suit) you will continue to be decided at home for now. 

Look, don’t touch 

The pandemic has changed the way we shop fundamentally – so expect to see many traders introducing ‘look, but don’t touch’ rules. Even on a market stall, don’t tap those melons, and don’t assume you can touch things such as fresh food unless the retailer says it’s okay. The same may even go for slipping on a jacket in store. 


Make sure you find out a store’s returns policy before you pay. If you want to take a few items home to try on, speak to a sales assistant first. Your right to return goods that are perfectly fine (and not damaged) is at the shop’s discretion though your statutory rights are not affected. Why not take some time checking out the returns policy on the retailer’s website while in the queue to pay? 

I’ve been flooded with enquiries from people who’ve been told to wait till the high street opens before physically returning items. That customer service desk is likely to be incredibly busy, so why not have a ‘fly by’ staff on the door to ask what the deal is with returning items, rather than lugging them down to the store, waiting in a queue, then being sent home again? You don’t have to queue to ask a quick question. 

Get – and keep the receipt 

Remember gift receipts -those fabulous bits of paper that mean you can return a Christmas present you hate? Don’t forget to ask for a receipt at the till so you can return items you’re buying if the recipient doesn’t want them – and hold on to your till receipt too. Waving your online banking app at a shop assistant as proof of purchase is not only unlikely to work, but also potentially compromising your bank account. Save alternative proof of purchases for emergencies – and never reveal your bank details. 

Online benefits 

Under the Consumer Contract Regulations, when you buy most goods online, you have a 14-day window from the date of delivery, during which you can change your mind or cancel the order. You don’t have this right automatically when you buy in person, so don’t assume you can return something just because you’ve changed your mind. But any goods or services that are damaged or not as advertised can be returned for a full refund within 30 days no matter whether you bought online or in-store.

Gift cards and vouchers

I’m expecting 2021 to be filled with complaints about vouchers and gift cards -specifically redeeming them. Many of your gift cards and vouchers might have expired over lockdown. Don’t wait until you get in store to argue this one out. Go online and see if the firm has extended ‘use by’ dates first. If not, check to see if the online store is accepting vouchers or gift cards (many haven’t been for online purchases). If that’s the case, you can argue you’ve not been able to use the voucher or gift card and the retailer should at the very least extend the deadline.

Be kind

And finally, getting back to something even close to normality is going to be weird, fabulous and frustrating. Expect strange quirks, a bit of officiousness and a few moments where you need to close your eyes and count to ten. But above all, be kind and courteous to the staff of the stores you shop in. They’ve had a tough year and they’re now back on the front end, dealing with all of us and our many questions. Show them you care. 

Need help with a shop situation? Resolver can help sort things out for free. 

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