Coronavirus: local retailers, take a bow!


The coronavirus pandemic has seen the local retailing sector rise to meet the challenge with a passion, commitment and creativity that demonstrates more clearly than ever why this sector is so critically important to the Scottish economy, and to every community across the country.

by Antony Begley

Where to begin when trying to capture the last few weeks in Scotland? A society and economy we had all believed was staunchly robust and prepared for any eventualities has instead been shown to be painfully fragile with life as we know it coming to a grinding halt in a matter of weeks.

Coronavirus has revealed a few home truths for us all and has helped many of us realise what really matters to us, what’s really important. And while crises like this can bring out the worst in some, they can also bring out the very best in many – and nowhere is that more evident than in the local retailing sector.

Convenience stores have always been at the heart of the communities they serve, often taken for granted, but never failing in their efforts to keep local communities fed and watered, as well as just being there for shoppers from dawn till dusk, seven days a week.

As the supermarkets have all but collapsed with mass out of stocks and huge supply chain and staffing issues, local retailers have found a way to keep their stores stocked, particularly with the everyday staples that most shoppers rely on. More than that, they’ve gone out of their way to accommodate the specific needs of their shopper base, offering to do home deliveries to elderly shoppers, going to great lengths to get specific items for shoppers and generally pulling out all the stops and working round the clock for their customers.

There’s no other way of putting it: local retailers, you are awesome!

We can only hope that when the dust settles on Covid-19 and something resembling normal life returns, shoppers will remember who was good to them when the chips were down, who bent over backwards to get them what they needed, and who truly had their interests as heart, as they always have and always will.

Perhaps this catastrophe will result in something positive. Perhaps this pandemic will force us all to hit the reset button and take a fresh look at our priorities in life. Perhaps coronavirus will leave a lasting, positive legacy with tighter-knit communities, a little more compassion and a lot more respect for the local retailers that were there for us all when we, as consumers, really needed them.

In the meantime, it seems appropriate to highlight just a few of the remarkable actions, deeds and words of some the outstanding retailers that make this sector so very special…

Convenience retailers ‘key workers in battle with Covid-19’

The current Coronavirus pandemic is creating fresh challenges daily, with the Government being forced to act quickly on a wide range of issues. The legal implications of how the retail sector responds to these challenges are not always clear, which is why we have asked specialist retail solicitors TLT to offer their most up to date advice on a number of key issues.

by TLT Solicitors

As the world gets to grips with an alternate normality, everyone appreciates the vital role that the retail trade is playing in making sure we all have access to what we need. Pragmatism is key as “needs must”. Here are our top tips for doing right by your communities whilst keeping your business within the law.

Elderly and vulnerable customers

  • You can create exclusive shopping early morning for specific customers to access grocery and household goods but remember you cannot sell alcohol outwith licensed hours (normally 10am – 10pm).
  • If they do have a requirement to buy alcohol then arrange for them to call and place an order for delivery. Take payment during licensed hours and then deliver the alcohol to their home address.

Home deliveries which include alcohol

In the present climate we can dispense with concerns around whether this needs to be specifically noted on your premises licence but you must still comply with certain rules:

  • You must keep delivery records (see below) on the premises and within the delivery vehicle
  • No deliveries before 6am or after 12 midnight
  • All orders payments must be processed during licensed hours (usually 10am to 10pm, but check your licence)
  • Challenge 25 must be applied when delivering alcohol
  • There are set record keeping requirements, namely:
  • The quantity, description and price of alcohol
  • The name and address of the person to whom it is being delivered

Delivering the alcohol to an address other than as per the order form is an offence, so it cannot be left with a neighbour and any re-direction would require the day book and invoice order updated.

If you are delivering because a household is self-isolating physical verification of ID at the door step will not be possible. Have processes in place to mitigate the risk such as having copy ID sent in advance matching the payment information. If in doubt, please seek specialist advice about due diligence options and risks that may arise.

Opening late for shift workers and NHS staff

As above alcohol cannot be sold before or after licensed hours. Any food retailing etc between 11pm and 5am is subject to having a Late Hours Catering Licence. Should you need to respond to a local demand please speak to your existing lawyer or – if you don’t have one – TLT, about getting an exemption from the Council.

Merchandising high demand items

Everyday essentials are a priority and whilst usually only alcohol and soft drinks can be displayed in the alcohol display area we have approached a number of licensing boards and LSOs who confirm that no action will be taken if you reduce you alcohol displays to accommodate other high demand items.

Premises Manager and/ or staff are self-isolating.

Firstly, don’t worry about having to do a Designated Premises Manager (DPM) change application if the manager is off for 14 days. If you need additional staff short term remember they need two hours of alcohol training before they can sell alcohol. To forego staff training, advertise for hospitality staff (let go by bars etc.) who have a personal licence or evidence of their two hours’ training. If that fails, rota untrained staff to do merchandising whilst trained staff serve.

We are grateful to TLT Solicitors for producing this advice at short notice. Particular thanks must go to Stephen McGowan, Niall Hassard, Michael McDougall and Caroline Loudon for the specific advice detailed above.

House of Commons praises local retailers

While supermarkets have been getting all the praise in recent weeks, Joanna Cherry QC MP has ensured that independent retailers have also received formal recognition for their outstanding response to coronavirus. The House of Commons has published an Early Day motion tabled by Cherry, with cross-party support, praising the work of convenience store owners and their staff during the current Covid-19 outbreak.

MP for Edinburgh South West, Cherry said: “Shopworkers across Scotland have really stepped up during the Covid-19 outbreak in supermarkets and small shops across the country. However, in many ways, it has been our corner shops who have kept Scotland going. Convenience store owners are pillars of their communities and we have heard many heart-warming stories about how they are going above and beyond to support their local customers.

“Corner shops have fantastic relationships with their customers and instinctively lookout for them. In my constituency of Edinburgh South West, Dennis and Linda Williams at Premier Broadway in Oxgangs have been doing really amazing work supporting folk with home deliveries of groceries and home-cooked meals and making multiple round trips to ensure vulnerable folk who have to isolate can still top up gas and electricity meters.”

Pete Cheema, CEO of the Scottish Grocers Federation, added: “We are delighted that Joanna has tabled this motion and shown such tremendous support for our industry. At a time of national emergency convenience stores – backed up by our key wholesalers – are ensuring the supply of essential groceries and helping to reduce the impact of panic buying. Convenience stores are providing vital services such as ATMs, deliveries, bill payment facilities and Post Offices. They are treating customers as important people with individual needs and giving our communities the resilience they need to pull through these testing times.”

Early Day Motion in full:

That this House recognises the hard work and dedication of convenience store owners and their staff during the covid-19 health crisis; recognises the vital role that those store owners and staff play in their local communities in ensuring the supply of food and essential household items; notes that such shops develop important relationships with their customers and help look after people in their communities; and commends the many shops that have been quick to respond to the crisis by helping their older and vulnerable customers by providing essential items and volunteering to deliver shopping to customers in high-risk groups and to people who are self-isolating.

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