December 1, 2020

How Italy is heading for a new norm

7 min read

On Monday, May 18, after almost three months of lockdown due to Covid-19 emergency, stores have reopened their doors allover Italy. 

 

In Milan city center people crowded shopping streets. Despite many stores offered sales, traffic and sales were not high, though encouraging as an overall optimistic and friendly atmosphere pervaded the city. People queued in front of Rinascente, Zara and H&M, while respectfully observing rules to wear masks, gloves and clean their hands before entering. Unfortunately not many teenagers were around.

People queuing in fromt of H&M

People queuing in fromt of H&M

For being the first day after the shutdown Milan was not empty. On the contrary there were people around – mostly Italian and some foreigners – all wearing masks and in some cases walking around in small groups – unfortunately, not always observing social distancing.

 

Not all stores have reopened like, for instance, Foot Locker, though are expected to start operating in the next days. Others will not re-open at all like Bershka in Via Torino and two H&M (one in via Torino and another one in Corso Buenos Ayres). Some smaller shops based in some peripheric area remained closed and exposed signs stating “In such conditions I cannot reopen”, meaning that they cannot afford adequating themselves to governmental rules without financing. Despite this, all over Milan city center most stores were open.

 

By asking retailers their first impression, most of them pointed out that despite traffic was not very high they expected less people in their stores and, most important, in most cases whoever entered made some purchase.

 

Most stores follow shorter opening hours reduced of about 10%-20% when compared to their regular working hours – opening slightly later and closing earlier. They have redesigned their shops’ layouts in order to leave more space and guarantee a distance of about 1.5-1.8 meter between each person. Many stores are also exposing printed signs explaining they care for their customers and what rules they have to respect, like, for instance, keeping a distance with others, wearing protections and washing their hands with special gel before entering.

OVS Store entrance gloves and detergent dispensers

OVS Store entrance gloves and detergent dispensers

Many also exposed another sign indicating how many people can be admitted inside according to the size of each shop of three people per 40 sq.meter of retail area, including personnel, always upon state regulations.

Despite limitations, the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming almost everywhere, most often showing retailers and shopassistants relieved for being back to work, and consumers free again to move around the city.

 

Some store’s personnel also took body temperature at the entrance, but not many as they are not obliged, according to rules, as explained by Simone, shop manager of the OVS store in Via Torino. “It’s a high cost keeping a person for the whole day who is able to check temperature professionally and approach gently and empathically whoever enters. Despite this, we think it’s important as we want to show our clients we care for them.” Among others who use thermoscanners at entrance there were also Zara, H&M and Rinascente.

OVS cash desk with plexiglas panels

OVS cash desk with plexiglas panels

Also Treesse, jeanswear, sportswear and streetwear multibrand chain of stores, is scanning its visitors’ body temperature and despite a very cold welcome at entrance, its shopassistants are kind and helpful and happy that people are around even if always in limited quantities. Differently from usually, teenagers were missing. “We saw mothers, and more men, but no kids, despite before the lockdown they were usually around their stores after 1pm,” a shopassistant explained.

Also Rinascente’s Annex area hosting young fashion, jeanswear and streetwear brands was practically empty confirming that the younger kids are not around yet. Let’s hope this changes soon.

Levi's shop-in-shop at Rinascente’s Annex area

Levi’s shop-in-shop at Rinascente’s Annex area

Other shops like footwear specialist MM and streetwear insignia AW Lab also host visitors while guaranteeing distinct entrance and exit paths, despite their stores are narrow.

MM store entrance and exit paths

MM store entrance and exit paths

Generally stores indicate such paths by hanging indications on walls or use floor signs and arrows, offer merchandise in wider and more distanced spaces and guarantee basic hygiene protocols, though every store follows different rules. “In reality the government didn’t give exact rules we should stick to,” explained a shopassistant of the Piazza Duomo Benetton megastore. “For this a store may check your temperature and another one not. One can sanitise clothes once they are tried on and others lock them is a room for 24-48 hours… . Most aspects are left to personal decisions. We use warm air for cleaning products and sanitizing changing rooms, but there’s not fixed protocol for this aspect.”

Floor signs at Benetton

Floor signs at Benetton

OVS has sanitizing its shops and changing filters of their air conditioning system, has mounted Plexiglas protections that keep a distance between personnel at cash register and inside stores more often. Though it chose to keep its changing rooms temporarily closed while letting people try clothes at home and eventually bring them back if sizes and models don’t fit them. “We preferred this solution. In case customers bring them back we will examine items, and leave them in special sealed rooms for three days with special hygienising treatments. Afterwards we can offer them again,” continues the store manager pointing out that the group was among the first ones to open on May 4 when kidswear stores could reopen. “We are recognised as the kisdwear number one brand in Italy and could test already some strategy. Mothers initially came for buying their kids’ basic pieces and underwear, but later also asked information about items for themselves we could sell through a special WhatsApp and phone service. They could call us and we could show them via videochat what pieces we carry our store – in part laid out. They could buy from remote and could pick them in-store.” The chain has also started a sort of free credit line through which customers can buy and pay in two months according to three installments without any cost or interest.

Fast fashion chains like Zara and H&M hosted queues outside, and also looked quite lively inside, even if no queue was waiting in front of changing rooms, that are sanitised with hot steam shots every time a client uses it as the clothes tried. Despite this footwear cannot be tried on.Also Rinascente is caring for sanitizing tried on clothes. In fact, it collects all pieces worn bly clients in specific rooms were they are kept in “quarantine” for 24 hours.

 

Many stores have opened offering significant discounts. Treesse gives a 25% discount on every brand, apart a few higher-end price like Octopus, sold at 10%. Pimkie offered a selection of pieces at 50%. La Rinascente, probably the most crowded department store, hosted people queuing outside while waiting to enter. As part of its offer a vast selection of products are discounted at maximum 50%, but also 40% and less until July 1. Its consumers’ attitude is well-disposed at spending, as explained by a shopassistant of the department store’s woman’s jeans department: “Some pass by and simply look around. Some others decide they deserve a present after such a long time. Therefore they buy.” Another shopassistant points out that brands like Max Mara and Louis Vuitton are selling very well…though it all depends what she compares with.

Louis Vuitton sign

Louis Vuitton sign

Also North Sails has recent,y reopened its Milan store by redesigning its space and offering many pieces discounted at 30% and other with a €20 voucher. While for thanking medical personnel for what they did during this emergency they give a special 50% discount.

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan’s beautiful “salotto”, one of first parts of the city to closed down shops when the emergency started, that showed very sad and desolate at the beginning of lockdown with designer brands store all closed, has opened again from day one, though stores like Prada, Versace, Armani and Gucci appeared completely empty. Unfortunately the Galleria lives out of tourism and so far not many foreign visitrs are in town. Only sign of optimism is the rainbow-decored Louis Vuitton store exhibiting, together with luxury merchandise, a slogan many had forgotten during quarantine saying “Andrà tutto bene”, meaning everything will be alright, a wish many hope becomes true very soon.

 

Despite some stores have remained closed, like, for instance, Milan’s Apple store, a cool gathering place for the Milanese, others in Italy decided to inaugurate exactly on May 18 giving a positive sign to its clients and the country. Among them there is Nove25, handmade silver jewellery Italian brand that inaugurated its second Milanese shop in Corso Buenos Ayres, and Sisley, that launched a new store concept in Treviso on the same day. This store, while respecting new laws guaranteeing safety doesn’t host mannequins but bidimensional silhouettes with men and women faces hand drawn designed by architect Tobia Scarpa. We all need fresh ideas to go back to a new norm.

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