The Covid-19 pandemic left shopping malls and streets completely deserted. Instead of manoeuvring several bags through oncoming pedestrians, items were conveniently placed into a digital shopping cart and ordered at home. Meanwhile, shops are open again, but the coronavirus is still in circulation and protective measures against the spread of the pandemic are still being taken. Is it worth strolling the city during these circumstances or will virtual shopping remain an everyday occurrence? FashionUnited visited Amsterdam shopping streets to explore the natural habitat of fashionistas.
It’s a rainy day in the Dutch capital, but even the worst weather can’t stop the shopping enthusiast from pursuing their passion. More and more tourists are also starting to visit their local favorite stores again. “The trip was already booked,” FashionUnited was told by vacationers.
While the rush is still limited during the week, long queues are forming in front of big department stores on the weekends. The current admission policy is similar to nightclubs: When the place is crowded, you have to wait in line in a designated area. Currently, the river of people that flows through the streets is still rather a quiet hustle and bustle than a raging rapids ride. This can be attributed to most locals working during the week and staying as far away from the city center as possible, as well as the usual amount of tourists who have not yet returned, also due to travel bans.
Despite the lack of crowds, shopping streets are still well frequented and a certain lively energy is returning. Compared to gastronomy, most shops in the Netherlands were never closed, but “staying at home” was still the top priority, which led to empty streets, especially at the beginning of the pandemic.
The greater interest in engaging in a shopping spree is also evident in Germany, as a survey by the Cologne Institute for Retail Research shows: Participants were asked whether they had already visited shops after reopening. Between the beginning of May and June, the answer “Yes, but only a bit” rose from 35 to 60 percent.
Small boutiques: too cramped for safe shopping?
On the paths leading away from large pedestrian zones, the streets are still much emptier - fewer people seem to get lost in the small alleys where boutiques and fewer chains are located. In Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets), the former secret of small independent shops not far from the large pedestrian zone Kalverstraat, there are usually so many visitors that bicycles don’t even stand a chance. Currently, “Amsterdam’s most characteristic shopping area”, as described by the travel guide Marco Polo, is rather a ‘dead end’.
The queue in front of the Brandy Melville store on Leidsestraat, Amsterdam via FashionUnited
Small stores also mean less space and capacity, which is why many of these shops only accept two to four customers at once. This seems to put off the public and only few dare to go inside. Some stores are still closed and refer to their online shops if available. However, there is one exception to this - Brandy Melville. The Italian brand seems to be the hotspot for teenage girls right now. No matter what the weather is like, a queue of young female bloggers is forming in front of the small store on Amsterdam’s Leidsestraat and not even the pandemic can stop them from shopping the style of their idols. This buying behavior also reflects the sales development of the different fashion segments - the young fashion segment has so far withstood the coronavirus pandemic rather unscathed.
Chaos in the fitting rooms
Is it possible to try an item in-store and how are the clothes cleaned afterwards? There is no universal answer to this question and every shop seems to follow its own approach, which can be confusing: try it on or buy it and hope for the best.
Within the higher price segment, trying on clothes doesn’t seem to be an issue. Shopping at Hugo Boss almost resembles normalcy and if a tried-on garment doesn’t please you, it is cleaned with a steam iron before it goes back on the rack.
At fast fashion supplier Topshop, the requirements are a bit stricter: Here, the customer is given a kind of glasses case in the entrance area, which they carry around until the point of trying on something. Only then is the card with the number of items to try on inserted. Additionally, the fitting is only possible in a certain changing room area, which has been specifically prepared - in the large stall, only a mirror and a clothes rail await the customer, while the other changing rooms are closed off. In front of the dressing room, staff are waiting to show customers the place of where to put unwanted pieces after the fitting. This is done so that members of staff do not have to touch the clothes until after 24 hours when they are returned to the store assortment. A quick try-on in front of a mirror is therefore strictly forbidden.
At Arket, on the other hand, trying on items is only possible at home. The sustainable concept of the H&M Group has locked its fitting rooms and instead advertises a 100-day return guarantee.
The pandemic doesn’t seem to affect the area of second hand fashion as much, so the market at Waterlooplein is taking place as usual without any real restrictions. But even in stores that sell pre-owned clothing, a clear difference cannot be spotted either. In Episode, a chain that is represented in several European cities, shoppers only need a basket, while cashiers are placed behind a plastic disc, similar to the supermarket. But the staff do not seem to care much about the clothes that were tried on. Safety seems to play a more important role in the new trend of ‘mouth protection’ - the mannequins in the shop window are already wearing the so-called mouth and nose protection and some trousers are accompanied by masks in the same fabric.
This year’s ‘it-piece’ seems to be the face mask. Since June 1, it has become mandatory to wear the face protection in public transports in the Netherlands, and suddenly pop-up stores like bubble tea shops or nail studios are appearing. This is particularly noticeable is the proximity to the station - in Amsterdam Centraal station’s own shopping mall of lined up stores, some are exclusively selling “Mondkapjes” to travellers.
Shopping fun or simply tedious?
Even though many stores are greeting customers with a “welcome back” poster in their shop windows, the shopping experience doesn’t feel very sunny. Although a friendly, helpful staff member is waiting at most entrances to explain the special measures, it’s mainly just a matter of shoppers disinfecting their hands. The process is repeated so often that, after five shops, customers can start to see a cleaning film forming on their hands. Evidently, it’s important to take measures against the spread of the coronavirus, but this obligation to disinfect is similar to asking guests to wash their hands immediately after they have passed through the front door. If you add compulsory face masks in shops, like in Germany, it becomes too tedious and the fun is taken out of shopping. In that case, maybe it’s more enjoyable to stay in, shop online and stream the local live cam of the shopping street to experience the ‘feeling’ from home.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.DE, translated and edited.
Photo Credit: FashionUnited