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CEX staff react in dismay as stores set to re-open for browsing

Without 72-hour trade-in quarantine.

CEX staff concerned for the safety of both customers and employees have told Eurogamer they are worried about the high street trade-in giant's plans to re-open shops in England next week.

Workers at a number of different branches, speaking under condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, told me they had been left dismayed by their employer's decisions to allow customer browsing and to not quarantine traded-in items for 72 hours.

CEX shops in England are due to open their doors next Monday morning, 15th June, with outlets in Wales and Scotland to follow at a later date. Some sites in Northern Ireland have re-opened already.

Yesterday, high street rival GAME announced it would also begin reopening its stores in England and Northern Ireland from next Monday, 15th June. But in an email to customers briefing them of the chain's new working practices, GAME explained browsing would not be possible for the forseeable future - staff would instead assist customers finding specific items - and any traded items would be cleaned and left for 72 hours before being placed back on sale.

Seeing GAME's announcement, CEX team members told me they had hoped their employer would follow the same practices - but this was not the case at present.

When CEX stores open next week, there are no plans to stop customer browsing. Members of the public will be allowed to handle stock normally throughout the store, staff told me, despite shops typically having "incredibly high touch rates" of DVDs and games.

Stores will limit customer numbers, though in some larger CEX shops staff told me this limit was more than two dozen, including workers on the shop floor.

CEX's website is already encouraging punters back to shops.

One specific concern raised by multiple staff was the new practice of having one worker "manage the door" to limit customer numbers if necessary. Workers have told me that in some shops, social distancing will be impossible while doing so.

CEX's own "Returning from COVID-19: Store Reopening" sales assistant pack - seen by Eurogamer - has a specific line on this in its social distancing section, suggesting it may have been highlighted as a potential issue. "You may be asked to manage the door at some point," it reads, "but your manager will have experienced it themselves and will be able to give you guidance and support."

Otherwise, social distancing should be practised "while behind the counter as much as possible", and there will be floor stickers to remind customers of the need to do so - though staff are not being asked to enforce customers stick to this. "Be aware that the public have their own social responsibility, and we're not here to police customers who are not completely sticking to safe social distancing," the pack states.

Allowing customers to freely browse is especially odd, staff said, as stock in the CEX chain is listed on the company's Webuy website - so customers can narrow down stores with a specific item. Staff I spoke to hoped the public would use this as much as possible prior to making their visits.

The enforcement of CEX's new "Drop & Go" system, in testing for several months, would also help, staff say. This lets customers register products they wish to sell online then drop them off to shop staff, with payment automatically added to the seller's bank account after they have been tested.

Stock on shop shelves will be cleaned at the end of each day, but staff are concerned how browsing will make this an impossible task. "It would take hours upon hours to clean the 1000s of DVDs on shelves because somebody touched one," one team member told me.

On the issue of quarantining traded-in items, there are no plans to do this at CEX. Items will be cleaned when received by a store, but are then immediately able to be placed on shop shelves.

Staff told me there has been no specific guidance on cleaning traded-in items, which may lead to different levels of sanitisation across the chain. Should staff clean just the outside of a product's box, or the interior, disc, sleeve? Workers who told me they had asked about quarantining stock on top of cleaning received the response that it would not add to employee safety, as stock was handled immediately when being received anyway - and was generally clean.

"Which is crazy," one team member said in response, "because I think if any of the higher-ups deciding this had ever worked a day in a shop they know CEX stores always seem to get the grimiest, most over-handled stock in existence."

CEX has said it will provide staff with a supply of gloves, masks and hand sanitiser - though the assistant pack explains that "gloves and masks can be used at your discretion", and homemade alternatives are acceptable.

Another point of concern is MePOS, the smaller points of sale operated by staff not behind a counter which require close-up interaction with a customer. Stores with a mix of standard tills on counters and MePOS will switch to only using standard tills, but Eurogamer understands one store will still be using a MePOS till despite company guidance as there is no other option.

Guidance seen by Eurogamer gives only "considerations" to stores exclusively using MePOS - social distancing strips and a partition to stand either side of when interactions between staff and customers take place.

Across the country, staff in CEX stores are preparing to return to work next week as their workplaces are kitted out with screens and stocks of PPE. But as a chain with many outlets run as a franchise, individual conditions are harder to police. A required risk assessment for each store is helping, staff told me, and head office has intervened in certain circumstances.

When contacted by Eurogamer and asked specifically about the chain's decisions to allow browsing and not to quarantine stock for 72 hours, CEX directed me to a generic public blog post dated 15th May with details on how the chain was responding to coronavirus, as well as an update on when and how doors would reopen in specific regions. There's no word on either subject there, and CEX declined to comment further.