Phone shops open from today: Here's everything you need to know

(Image credit: BT)

Starting this morning, mobile phone shops across England open their doors for the first time in three months, allowing customers to receive assistance and make purchases.

All four major UK operators closed their retail locations in late March as the government imposed lockdown measures that resulted in the closure of non-essential retailers, restricted the movements of individuals, and enacted social distancing.

Since then, operators have relied heavily on their online customer service and sales operations. But in the background, there has also been work carried out to ensure that retail locations could open safely once they were allowed to do so.

Which stores will be open?

The grand reopening is a phased process that depends on local regulations and by individual operator. Whereas stores in England are free to resume trading from today, mobile phone stores in Northern Ireland were able to open last week. Meanwhile, the Scottish and Welsh governments are yet to give the go-ahead to retailers.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone are all reopening stores but some sites will remain closed for the time being. Three is opening 250 stores to begin with, while Vodafone will do the same with 65, adding that it will hold fire on central London locations because staff would need to use public transport in order to get to work.

Virgin Media stores will not be returning to the high street, however. Since lockdown was imposed, the telco has made the decision to move its sales and support operations online permanently. 

Similarly, standalone Carphone Warehouse stores will also remain shut. The company announced it was shutting all of its 531 mobile-only locations in March and brought forward the closures as a result of the lockdown.

What will be different?

At stores that have reopened, a visit will be little bit different from before.

Firstly, social distancing will be in effect. There will be limits to the number of customers allowed in a store at any one time while markers on the floor will indicate the two-metre distancing rules. Staff numbers will be reduced and employees will be protected by plastic screens at tills. To make the experience more efficient, EE and O2 have said they will be employing virtual queue systems.

Hand sanitising stations will be available and all operators have pledged to regularly clean their stores. Some operators will only allow staff to touch customer devices when “absolutely essential” while Vodafone has removed store displays entirely from the shop floor.  When it comes to paying, contactless payments will be prioritised in order to reduce risk for both customers and employees.

The coronavirus pandemic has elevated the role of communications and mobile operators have stepped up to ensure that everyone has remained connected during a challenging period.

Mobile phone retail will be a little different, at least for the time being, but every effort has been made to make it as safe as possible.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.