Bell Mobility Liverpool new
Bell Mobility’s John Bird highlighted that it saw an impact in the weeks leading up to tier 3 categorisation

With more areas in England facing the prospect of entering tier three, THIIS has spoken with two independent mobility retailers from Liverpool to share their experiences of trading in a tier-three location and the impact it has had on their businesses.

On 12 October 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new, three-tier local lockdown system across England, ranging from tier one (medium) to tier three (very high).

The Liverpool city region, consisting of 1.5 million people across Liverpool city and the surrounding boroughs of Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral, was the first area to be placed under the tier three.

Now, the most stringent restrictions have been imposed on the location, with households no longer allowed to mix; hospitality venues, pubs, bars, gyms and casinos closed; and guidance to avoid all but essential travel.

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Reminiscent of the restrictions experienced in the first national lockdown, the key difference this time around is that shops, both essential and non-essential, have been permitted to remain open.

The closure of other key parts of the local economy and an awareness of a prevalent spread of the virus in the community has left some to speculate whether the impact of strict local restrictions will result in a drop off in retail trade.

Youngs Mobility
Youngs Mobility’s David Young noted that the noticeable difference between the spring lockdown and tier three

Speaking with David Young, Owner of Youngs Mobility, an independent retailer located in central Liverpool, he told THIIS that while business had become quieter, it was too early to tell whether that was a direct result of going into tier three.

“As we get into the middle of October, business enters a traditionally quieter period as we, like many mobility retailers, see our busiest trading period between when the clocks go forward to when they go back,” he explained.

“So it is too early to say whether business has started to contract as a result of the measures or if this is just the natural downturn that we see at this time of the year.

“I think it’ll take a couple of more weeks before I’ll be able to tell if entering tier-three has resulted in a significant fall in trade.”

John Bird, Managing Director of Wallasey-based Bell Mobility, highlighted that he noticed a shift in his trade a couple of weeks ago. Wirral had imposed stricter local restrictions before the government launched its official tiered system.

“We noticed about three weeks ago when stricter measures were first announced,” John told THIIS.

“During the summer, we saw customers returning to the store after the first lockdown. Now, however, we are receiving more phone calls and seeing less footfall. Traffic in the shop is down as our customers seem to be shielding more and we have been doing more drop-offs to customers’ houses.”

Interestingly, John’s experiences of a change in customer behaviour chime with David Young’s, who also reported seeing a marked decline in end-users visiting his retail premises.

“I have noticed that people coming into the premises to buy items are buying it for an elderly relative, so there seem to be fewer elderly people coming out to shop,” noted Youngs Mobility’s owner.

“It may be the case that the elderly have heeded the advice to stay indoors but they still need certain products so we may see more people shopping on their behalf.”

Recently, the government released updated shielding advice for those clinically extremely vulnerable. The guidance, which changes in line with the specific tier a location is under, does not go as far as the initial lockdown in March. It does advise those most at-risk to avoid shopping trips and non-essential travel in very high areas, though.

Unlike the spring lockdown, David Young remarked that the current situation in Liverpool feels very different to how it did when stringent restrictions were imposed in March.

“When the lockdown was first introduced at the end of March, there was an immediate drop-off and you could see and sense that something dramatic was happening,” he commented.

“Now, it is very different. There is still traffic and people are still out and about so it feels different, despite Liverpool being in the very high category.

“Again, if there is an impact, I think it will be more gradual, rather than the cliff-edge many of us faced in March.”

Discussing some of his customers’ reactions following the area being placed in tier three, Bell Mobility’s John said: “Reactions have been mixed. Some have said ‘let’s just get on with it’ as they are old-school have been through the war.

“On the other hand, there are others who shielding and ordering more on the phone or over the website and opting to have us drop products off.”

Fortuitously for Bell Mobility, the retailer launched its new website with online ordering capability in February, weeks prior to the lockdown.

“We have certainly had new customers off the back of the new website as they can see our full ranges and prices easily, including many coming in and asking for a product that they had seen online,” added John.

“Many do not necessarily order over the website as some people are still shy about that but they have seen the product and then enquire to find more over the phone or in-person.”

Bell Mobility’s fortunate timing acts as a stark reminder to mobility retailers of the importance of having a modern, easy-to-use website during the pandemic, particularly as restrictions become tighter throughout winter and end-users turn to more remote means of finding products.

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