Click and collect has become a handy, halfway house for many of us during the pandemic, allowing us to buy goods without delivery costs while stores are closed.
But from Saturday, non-essential click and collect retail services will be banned in parts of Scotland categorised as ‘Level 4’. It follows the decision by John Lewis to suspend its click and collect service across the UK, amid surging Covid cases.
Elsewhere across the nation, services remain open. But should we be using them?
From a health perspective, this really depends on the local set-up, says Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist and expert in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester.
“If both the customer and staff are wearing masks, there is some sort of barrier between them and the place is well-ventilated, the risk is less,” he tells HuffPost UK. “But without one or more of these components in place, the risk could be higher if either the customer or staff are unknowingly infected and breathing out the virus.”
Some stores have click and collect tables at the front of the store, and they don’t allow customers to go indoors and mix. This reduces the risk even more.
There’s also a difference between click and collect for essential and non-essential retail, he adds, because risk needs to be balanced against people’s practical needs.
“Click and collect is almost certainly less risk than walking around a supermarket having multiple brief contacts with 10-100 strangers,” Dr Tang explains. “Online ordering of groceries to your front door – where the team just leave the boxes on the floor and step back whilst you empty them – is probably the least risk.”
There’s also the impact on businesses to consider, says retail expert Clare Bailey, founder of The Retail Champion.
“Click and collect was a lifeline for retail businesses in the second lockdown,” she says. “Thousands of retailers rely on this to continue to serve their local customers, and it saves them a fortune in the cost of shipping online orders.”
She’d like to see businesses given some guidance on how to operate a click and collect service safely, though. Currently, some stores are inviting shoppers inside to collect their parcels, which Bailey believes should be a “no-no”.
“They need to take payment remotely and merely hand over a parcel with zero contact,” she says. “Most retailers, especially the smaller, independents, simply want to stay afloat and serve customers – clearly some have misunderstood the regulations and guidelines and, as such, they need some coaching – but that is where many local authorities come in.”
We shouldn’t stop using click and collect, argues Bailey, but we should consider our own safety and the safety of retail staff if visiting a collection point. This includes maintaining a two-metre distance when queuing outside and wearing a face mask if you enter the premises.
“If customers are not satisfied that a business is operating safely, they can mention their concerns to the business, or, if they feel uneasy, they can contact their local authority public health protection team to make a report,” she adds.
“In most cases, a simple bit of advice is all that is required to help a business adapt to the measures they need to implement to adhere to the regulations.”
If you’re unsure about a store’s click and collect set-up, switch to a different one if it’s still local and is in your budget, suggests Dr Tang.
“If someone in the household is able and has been vaccinated – like frontline hospital workers – they could also do the pickup instead,” he suggests.
There’s no right or wrong answer on whether you should stop using services, as ultimately it comes down to personal choice and the risk within your household. If family members of housemates are shielding, more caution is advised.
“The bottom line is, retailers are very grateful at the moment for any support they can get – and their customers being able to buy from them is a lifeline for many,” adds Bailey.
“As long as everyone is safe, and follows the regulations, I see no reason why customers should be concerned, and retailers really do need their business.”