How To Safely Shop For Clothes In Stores As Coronavirus Lockdown Eases

If you're nervous about trying on clothes or touching garments in a store, you're not alone.

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As some coronavirus lockdown measures begin to ease and stores reopen, Australians can look forward to shopping for clothes in store again.

However if you’re nervous about entering a shop after months, you’re not alone.

According to Queensland University of Technology retail expert Professor Gary Mortimer, there’s a few things you can look out for to give you more confidence while shopping in store.

The government has issued COVID-19 hygiene guidelines for retailers that advise contactless payment, hand sanitisers for staff and shoppers, regular disinfecting of surfaces, 1.5 metre social distancing and the four-square metre rule.

These measures, along with closed change rooms and customer limits are “the types of signals consumers are looking for to instil a level of confidence”, Mortimer told HuffPost Australia.

“Some [stores] have taken a very cautious approach, putting in sneeze screens, closing change rooms, limiting the amount of people that can come into a store, sanitising racks of clothes and sanitising shopping baskets,” he said.

Kmart for example has “reduced customer capacity limits” in stores with a crowd control staffer at entry points, a spokesperson confirmed. The retailer also has “dedicated team members cleaning baskets and trolley handles during opening hours and self-serve registers after every customer”.

Retailers are being encouraged to take zero contact payments. 
Retailers are being encouraged to take zero contact payments. 

Can I Try Clothes On?

The risk of coronavirus lingering on clothes in a retail setting is lower according to University of New South Wales infection control expert, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws,

“SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can survive on hard surfaces in perfect conditions in the laboratory and these conditions are unlikely to be the same in the shop,” she said.

However, in the scenario of trying on sunglasses or scarves that come in close contact with the face, sanitising is still recommended.

“To be careful with this nasty virus, you can ask the salesperson if you can use a sanitisers wipe to clean the glasses as most wipes contain detergent and alcohol at above 65% that will not harm the glasses/lenses but inactivate the virus,” explained McLaws.

“Salespersons should ask customers to hand hygiene before trying on scarves and gloves and keep scarves away from their face. Once you purchase these items and get them home, it’s highly unlikely that these items pose any risk to you at all. But if you’re anxious, place them outside in the sun for a while, then enjoy them.”

Like many retailers, discount department store Big W voluntarily closed its change rooms in March. The chain reopened change rooms two weeks ago with social distancing measures in place.

“Based on overwhelming feedback and to help our customers purchase winter essentials for families, as of 5 May we reopened the fitting rooms, with only every second room open to maintain our social distancing practices,” said a Big W spokesperson. “Each fitting room will be fitted with hand sanitiser for the safety of our teams and customers.”

In addition to the spacing out of fitting rooms, McLaws said, “signs should be erected asking customers with cold-like symptoms to not try on any clothes or enter the change room”.

How Are Clothes Decontaminated After Being Tried On Or Returned?

“Dress/suit rental shops require items to be dry-cleaned on return but in all other retailers there isn’t any specific infection control requirement,” said McLaws.

“With the current low prevalence of COVID-19 in Australia this should not cause any increase in risk. But precautionary measures may change if the number of infections in our community increases. Requiring customers to hand hygiene before entering the shop and on leaving should decrease the risk of spread.”

A popular women’s fashion retailer in Sydney is limiting the number of items taken into a changing room and then disinfecting any clothes that are not purchased, said a worker who asked to remain anonymous.

“Customers are only allowed three items per change room,” the sales assistant told HuffPost Australia. “After a customer tries on an item of clothing, we spray it with Glen 20 and leave it on a rack to dry. It doesn’t stain.”

According to the Department of Health’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), ‘Glen 20 Surface Spray Disinfectant - Hospital Grade’ is suitable to use as a disinfectant against coronavirus.

Shoe stores Platypus and Sketchers, owned by Accent Group, have also been isolating items after they are tried on in store.

“If a customer returns a shoe, we take it back, as we would normally. We put it at the back. We leave it there for two days in quarantine and put it back on the shelf after that,” the Accent Group’s general manager of retail operations, Armando Pedruco, told ABC News in a television interview on Wednesday.

Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association, said returned garments “need to be quarantined or disinfected” before hitting the sales rack.

“Some stores have chosen not to open their fitting rooms, asking customers to try on items at home,” he told HuffPost Australia.

“All retailers are reviewing their refunds and returns policies. Items returned need to be quarantined or disinfected prior to returning the goods for sale. These changes may not only require store layout changes and new equipment, but also staff training and guidelines.”

Australian dress hire service GlamCorner has assured customers that each item is being sanitised before another customer can rent it.

“Every garment is cleaned upon its return using strict sanitation procedures with a Miele commercial cleaning system that uses biodegradable detergents and solvents that disinfect at 40 degrees celsius, followed by an additional stringent commercial drying process above 75 degrees celsius,” reads a statement on the the COVID-19 section of the company’s website.

Lingerie retailer Bras N Things said it also has a sanitising process in place.

“Whether a customer decides to return an item in store or online, Bras N Things has strict quality and safety procedures in place,” said a Bras N Things spokesperson, adding team members are required to use and sanitiser and disposable gloves before handling the product.

“Returned items which pass strict quality standards are placed on a hanger, steamed and aired for a period of at least 48 hours before being made available for sale in the interest of sustainability and providing high service levels to our customers.”

As of Thursday morning, Australia had recorded more than 7080 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 100 deaths.