Waterstones is preparing to put books into quarantine after they have been handled by browsing shoppers as part of plans to reopen its stores when allowed.
The bookseller intends to ask shoppers to set aside any book they touch on trolleys which will be wheeled away into storage for at least 72 hours before being put back on shelves in an effort to protect customers from the spread of coronavirus, in a move first reported by consumer writer Harry Wallop.
James Daunt, the chief executive of Waterstones, said the retailer has been advised that the virus cannot survive for long on cardboard or paper but will be taking extra precautions to give them time to “self heal”.
Other measures to protect staff and customers will include perspex screens in front of tills, limits on the number of shoppers, a one-way system in stores and the closure of cafes as Waterstones adapts to physical distancing measures required by the government along with thousands of other retailers.
The retailer has seen online sales rise more than 300% during lockdown as the closure of all bookstores since the end of March as well as enforced leisure and limited options for entertainment have strengthened demand.
With staff saying they felt unsafe, the stores closed shortly before the UK government imposed a high-street lockdown. But already the virus had prompted an unprecedented demand for books with a 17% rise in sales.
Daunt said classics, including lengthy “bucket list” books by Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and pandemic-inspired literature such as Albert Camus’s The Plague, had all proved popular, although the bestseller in Waterstones has been Rutger Bregman’s uplifting book, Humankind, which argues that most people’s instincts are good.
“Reading was quite robust before lockdown and if anything this has been positive [for promoting reading]. But there has been an extraordinary subtle change in what people are reading,” said Daunt.
He said the closure of stores had generally hit sales of new books as it has made browsing and picking up on staff recommendations more difficult. He said Waterstones was now preparing for further change as the high street reopened.
‘The expectation is that in most retailers behaviour will change,” Daunt said. “People will generally be coming out to shop with greater purpose, they are not just coming to while away the hours but generally they are going to pick up books,” he said.
Waterstones was hoping to reopen all its stores, when allowed under the government’s planned gradual relaxation of lockdown. But he said it was difficult to judge how busy they would be.