After months of online-only shopping or curbside pickup, retailers across Canada are slowly reopening as coronavirus closures lift.
Shopper Serge Benoualid told Global News he was happy to wait outside a Montreal Hudson’s Bay department store to buy new summer clothes.
“I’m not a big shopper online,” he said.
In B.C., retail stores were able to reopen as of mid-May under enhanced protocols, and malls could reopen in Alberta as of May 14. Ontario allowed retail stores located outside of indoor shopping malls to reopen as of May 19.
But just because you can now shop in-person for clothing doesn’t mean it’s the same experience. In fact, many stores may not let you try on garments due to concerns around COVID-19 transmission.
Closed or limited fitting rooms
Fitting rooms are currently closed at Hudson’s Bay stores, a spokesperson for the company told Global News. Any returned clothing will be held for a 24-hour quarantine before going back on the floor, they added.
At Walmart locations, fitting rooms also remain closed, a spokesperson said.
Winners and Marshalls stores are open across Canada unless provincially mandated otherwise, a spokesperson for the company said, but the stores have undergone changes.
Shoppers can try on clothing, but every other fitting room is closed to promote physical distancing, the spokesperson said, adding that there is “enhanced cleaning throughout the day.”
“Additionally, any merchandise tried on in a fitting room and not purchased will be set aside for 24 hours before being made available again for customers to purchase.”
Ninety per cent of Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores in Canada have reopened, a company spokesperson said, and most of the fitting rooms are open with increased regular cleaning.
Aritzia stores are also reopening across Canada with limited fitting room capacity and cleaning after use.
While chain retailers roll out company-wide policies, independently owned stores and smaller businesses are determining their own fitting room practices.
Gravitypope, a retail store that sells clothing and shoes, has several locations across Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, that are open for appointments and walk-ins.
Fitting rooms are open, a company spokesperson said, but shoppers are required to wear masks when trying on clothing. Hand sanitizer is also provided before and after handling the clothes, and fitting rooms are cleaned after each use.
After clothes are handled, they are set aside for 48 hours and then steamed.
Vancouver-based business owner Sharon Hayles of Diane’s Lingerie previously told Global News that only three of six fitting rooms will be open at a time — but all of them will be rotated and subject to regular sanitization after use.
Hayles said due to online business, Diane’s Lingerie has already been quarantining returns for three days before putting them back into inventory.
Will these practices help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Safety measures like cleaning fitting rooms and holding clothes for periods of time after use are prudent, said Trevor C. Charles, a professor of biology at the University of Waterloo.
While it is known that the virus can last a few days on solid surfaces and much less time on fabric, Charles said, some clothing does “contain solid surfaces, such as buttons and zippers, and these would certainly be touched when the garment is being tried on.”
Charles points out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently clarified on its website that people are at much less risk of catching the virus by touching a contaminated surface than by standing close to others.
Still, trying on garments within a store increases the chance of contamination through touching surfaces, Charles said, as customers need to enter and exit fitting rooms and handle clothing hangers.
Greg Wilson, the director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, previously told Global News that retailers will need to be mindful of cleaning “high-touch points,” like door handles, in between customers.
When it comes to holding returned goods and garments that have been tried on in-store, some retailers wait 24 hours, while others hold items for days.
A Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic spokesperson said given the recent changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines around main ways of COVID-19 transmission, stores are accepting returns but did not clarify if returned clothing is subject to a hold period before going back on the floor.
Charles said it’s a good idea to wait some time before putting the merchandise back on the floor. But for how long is unclear.
“I would hope that public health authorities would provide some guidance,” Charles said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
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