I wonder, when I talk to friends twenty years from now, will we ask the question, “where was the first place you visited when lockdown was lifted from Covid-19?” If we do, I’ve got my answer. Officially, it was Starbucks. Haha. I needed my American coffee fix in the middle of the English countryside. But, unofficially, my first big journey out into the world, as lockdown began to lift, was Bicester Village! Yes, old faithful. I went to meet a friend for lunch, albeit a takeaway one, and a walk around the shops. I also went because I trusted an open air experience more than a mall and I missed shopping. Sue me. I’ll freely admit it. I missed the feeling of walking into a store, greeting a salesperson and finding that perfect dress you didn’t even know you needed. I was also very curious as to what Bicester Village would have in place for safety procedures in a world where Covid-19 is still alive and well, and a worry for many. I won’t lie. I saw an opportunity to experience something and come away with a story (and perhaps a few discounted designer items as well). So here we go, this is the tale of a full day of shopping at Bicester Village on the 24th of June 2020, in a world where hand sanitiser is king and queues as we know them have gone digital… wait for it…
My day starts with lunch in The Apartment at Bicester Village. The lunch is takeaway, as the restaurants aren’t yet open for dining in. Watch this space as all that will change next week, with social distancing in place. For those of you that don’t know about The Apartment, this is part of the personal shopping experience at Bicester and can be booked by anyone at any time of year. There are some services that are still running in conjunction with personal shopping and making your Bicester experience easier. There are also others, like valet parking, that have had to shut for the time being because of government restrictions.
Starting my day at The Apartment, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about the usual shopping experience. Well, not until we left. My lunch date pointed out the scanner that I missed on our way in. It was cleverly positioned so as not to be noticed, but it was taking our temperature as we came in. We obviously passed with flying colours as we weren’t stopped and told we couldn’t enter. I was also pointed to an iPad where I scanned a QR code with my phone and downloaded a VIP card (also available to anyone that asks for it) for an additional 10% off at many retailers in the village. The card is usually a paper one you collect at reception. But, this is now a paper free village! Everything is done by your phone and this is just the start.
So, here’s a look at The Apartment. Business as usual…
Then, things start to look a little different as we walk into Bicester Village.
There is a white fence around the perimeter of the property now. The only way you can get into the shops is through a white tent, where they have assembled check points. Thermal scanners check your body temperature and you will not be admitted into the village unless you have a normal temperature. It looks a bit like this:
If you decline having your temperature taken, you will not be admitted to the village. Simple as that.
As you walk around the village, you will see reminders of what is acceptable and what isn’t. The village itself has a standardised way of operating. There are markings on the ground pointing out the 2 metre distance rule. It is suggested that you wear a mask, although I did not wear one (I admit that I probably should have for the safety of others and myself) and I saw very few customers wearing one. I was not interested in breaking the 2 metre rule, and in the UK masks are not mandatory. I’m just preempting those who are going to jump down my throat for not wearing a mask. Rules are different everywhere, folks. A mask is a mere suggestion, even at Bicester Village. It’s not a requirement for entry. However, nearly every shop attendant was fitted with a mask and gloves.
At nearly every shop, there is an attendant at the door and at the bigger shops, there may be a few and something in place called a “digital queue.” Welcome to the future of shopping. As each shop allows limited people in the store at one time, digital queues have been created, so that people are not waiting outside in long lines. You simply meet a person at the front of the store with an iPad, who will direct you to scan a code. You then receive a text with a time slot to visit the store. A word of warning on this. Stores run out of slots early! The big ones, like Gucci and Christian Louboutin will run out of time slots, for the whole day, first thing in the morning. So, if you are visiting the village, go there first and get a place in the digital queue.
Let me tell you about my digital queue experience at Gucci. We signed up for the digital queue and we were given a time slot of 3pm to visit the store. When we arrived at the store we were then put in line with six other people, all at a 2-metre distance from each other. When we came to the front of the line, we were introduced to our sales assistant, our very own. He would be accompanying us throughout the shop, getting product when we needed different sizes and basically just being a really helpful bloke. I’ve never had a more civilised shopping experience. It was fabulous and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. I dig this new way of shopping.
Gucci was the only place we needed to queue. Every other store, we simply walked in. But, by the tenth store, my hands were starting to feel a bit sticky. No, I don’t mean I was getting sticky fingers like I was an instant shoplifter. Come on, now. I was getting sticky and rather uncomfortable palms because each and every store required us to stop at the entrance to apply hand sanitiser. While it is annoying and rather gritty after a few stores, I realise it is absolutely required. I just wanted to be upfront so you know what to expect. You’ll have the cleanest hands you’ve ever had while shopping.
The village itself was actually busier than I had anticipated, but also a lot quieter than I had ever seen it before. Bicester are currently recommending that guests visit during quieter hours, weekdays 9-11am or 6-8pm. Noted! I went during a busy time. Not smart, but now I know better.
What else to tell you? Oh yes, so as is the trend worldwide, it’s all about contactless shopping. They encourage contactless and cashless payment!
I didn’t buy as much as I thought I would on my first shopping expedition in nearly four months. But, I had conversations with shop assistants who openly admitted that they hadn’t received new stock in three months. So, what’s in is what’s in. For many brands, that means there are some serious sales on, that you should definitely take adventure of. For others, it means stale stock, but such is always the risk with bargain shopping. You win some, you lose some. I’m never bitter about that at Bicester as the experience of going is always so lovely, you never feel bad for making the journey if you leave empty handed, and I have many times in the past. It’s the days when you get the priceless finds that always make it really worth it in the long run, but I’m just as happy with long strolls through favourite brands, broken up with coffees, sweet treats and a nice wholesome lunch.
Here’s a look at a few pieces I did try on. I left the village with two skirts from Max Mara, that were both 80% off retail price, and a bag that my mom’s been eyeing up for ages (can’t say too much else as this is her Christmas present and I don’t want to ruin the surprise…but it was a serious steal)!
Before leaving Bicester Village, I couldn’t go without trying a new ice cream concession I spotted at the exit, called Darlish. Try their mango sorbet and then go back and try the raspberry and coconut (which is quite simply the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had the honour of tasting… I had no idea). Darlish, we don’t know each other, but I’m your new biggest fan and hope you don’t mind me giving you a mention in a piece all about post lockdown shopping at Bicester Village! Random, I know!
And there you have it, folks. That’s all you need to know, really. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. I’m happy to answer them! I have always been a huge supporter of Bicester Village and I did want people to know what it’s like to go back so they feel comfortable going armed with a full picture of what’s going on. For full disclosure, I will mention that I have worked with Bicester Village in the past in a paid capacity. This visit, however, was not endorsed in any way. I was in the area and made a choice to go and visit and write this piece for you today!
Please stay safe out there, guys! Shopping feels like more of a luxury than ever, but we still have to act responsibly. So, listen to the guidelines, appreciate the need to sanitise frequently and go easy on the security guards as they stop people for temperatures. No one wants to have to do any of this, but it’s keeping us all safe!
If you feel like I’ve missed anything, you can head over to Bicester Village’s website for more info on shopping protocols currently in place, as they will be changing as things evolve!