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Coronavirus round-up: Next, Boots, Debenhams, IMRG, Naked Wines, John Lewis Partnership, ONS and more

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We’re reporting on the effect of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic on the way UK shoppers buy – and on how retailers are responding to that changing behaviour. This update comes as 88,621 positive cases have been confirmed by Public Health England as of 9am on April 13 and 11,329 people have died. Daily figures show 4,342 cases and 717 deaths over the previous 24 hours.

Next starts to reopen its online business

Next today partially reopened its online business, after putting safety measures into place in its warehouse and distribution network. Here’s the full story

Online prices rise as lockdown consumer demand does – and fall in other areas

Love the Sales’ latest figures suggest online retailers are rowing back on an initial wave of discounting that followed the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they also suggest that demand for high street brands has fallen by 149% – where discounts have risen by 103% – as shoppers turn instead to premium (demand +85%, discounting -27%)  and luxury labels (demand +36%, discounting -48%). The Love the Sales Lockdown Economy report suggests that individual brands that are benefitting from lockdown consumer traffic include Ugg, Crocs and Calvin Klein. Prices have also risen on exercise equipment and beauty and grooming products. 

Searches for clothing for the top half of the body have risen by 132%, says Love the Sales, as home workers look for work-from-home wear suitable for video conferencing. 

Retail products that have seen price rises include kettlebells, where consumer demand has risen by 419% and prices have risen by 55%, both year-on-year. Other products with rising demand and prices including yoga mats (demand: + 260%, prices +29%), and skipping ropes (+223%/+44%). 

Love the Sales figures include prices, discounts and product data from more than 1,000 UK online retailers and compare levels of discounting between March 25 and April 7 2020 against the same dates last year. Consumer data is taken from Google trends and from search data from 4m UK shoppers using

Boots closes 60 low-footfall shops temporarily as Covid-19 changes shopping patterns

Boots is to close some of its stores temporarily to reflect the changing way that shoppers are using them during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The pharmacy and health and well-being retailer says that the sites where people needs its stores have “changed fundamentally” with stores now seeing very low footfall in areas including airports, shopping centres and central London shops that mostly serve people working in offices. Meanwhile, more than double the number of visitors are now going to local community pharmacies. 

The retailer, which operates 2,400 stores around the UK, is closing 60 shops by next Wednesday, of which 25 London shops will close at the end of business today. Some pharmacy, healthcare, and store management colleagues working in quieter stores will be asked to help teams in nearby busy pharmacies, or, to stay at home where that’s not possible. 

A spokesperson for Boots UK said: “All over the country, we are working tirelessly to support the NHS and to provide our customers with the advice, healthcare, medicine and products that they need. We are committed to being there for the people that need us and we will not leave a community without a pharmacy. We would like to thank our colleagues for their work and our customers for their support and generosity.”

The retailer says its senior pharmacy team will continue to issue daily advice vlogs on its website, where customers can also find their nearest open shop.

Debenhams goes into administration – exactly a year on from last time

Debenhams has today appointed administrators, days after it filed notice of its intent to do so, under pressure from Covid-19. It plans a light touch administration that will see “as many as possible” of its UK stores reopen afterwards. However its 11 Ireland stores are not expected to reopen. Read the full story here.

IMRG sees rise in online sales, though performance continues to vary across sectors

IMRG says online sales rose by 22% in the first week of April, compared to the same time last year, as multichannel sales rose by more than 40%. The previous week, starting March 29, sales had risen by 23.7% 

“Online has become the only channel for many multichannel retailers,” said Matthew Walsh, director of data and retail at IMRG on an IMRG webinar today. “It’s not necessarily compensating for the lack of stores, but starting to show that multichannel retailers are no longer getting a large proportion of sales from their stores.”

One example of that has been in the beauty sector, where online sales rose by almost 140% in the first week of April. “Typically, these sorts of products get replenished fairly regularly in high street shops as people run out,” said Walsh. “Now people can no longer fill up in a high street store and have to go online. It’s pretty much the only sector that we track where there is a continuous requirement to replenish the product and the only channel now is through online retailers.”

In other sectors, sales have risen sharply in the electricals ( circa +90%) and home and garden categories (c. +70%) in the first week of April. Clothing sales remain down, at more than -20% year-on-year, but they appear to show some recovery from the previous week.

More detailed figures for the previous week, starting March 29, showed that mobile commerce grew by 21%, year-on-year, with smartphone sales up by 50% while tablet sales fell by 37.6%. 

IMRG is also tracking the way that 300 online retailers, of whom half are multichannel and the other half pureplay, are responding to customer demand. It found that 127 retailers had closed their shops by the first week of April, up from 120 a week earlier. But while some initially closed their online shops, that number decreased this week compared to the previous week. On March 27, 19 ecommerce shops were closed, while a week later, just 16 were closed, with retailers including Schuh, Naked Wines, Dunelm and Net-A-Porter reopening their websites, often after making changes to warehousing in the meantime, while others closed theirs. 

IMRG research also showed that more retailers were advising customers of longer delivery times than in previous weeks. 

John Lewis Partnership creates NHS Nightingale wellbeing area and distributes care packages

The John Lewis Partnership said today it was installing a wellbeing area at NHS Nightingale for medical staff and volunteers to use. The site represents the only part of the hospital that, says the partnership, will give staff a specific place of sanctuary to take time out from a challenging environment. It features music by composer Alejandro Bonatto as well as care packages including items from toiletries to hand gel and lip balm and snacks, tea, coffee and socks. These packages will also be distributed to staff at clinical care and intensive care units around the UK. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association chair of council, said: “When so many healthcare staff are putting in hour after hour to look after so many very sick patients, a deed, such as this, to show how much they are appreciated, can make all the difference – supplying healthcare staff with essentials they may otherwise have difficulty getting hold of because of the hours they are working – doing long shifts – is truly welcome and we are very grateful.

“The BMA is delighted to be working with John Lewis and Waitrose to provide these care boxes to so many frontline staff over the coming weeks. Whilst we know that many staff are facing huge challenges, we hope these boxes will bring a few smiles and some comfort to as many staff as possible during these incredibly difficult times.”

Other steps the retailers are taking include setting aside hard-to-find items for NHS staff, priority NHS checkout and gifts of essential items to hospitals. 

Naked Wines expects full-year revenues to rise with higher demand

Naked Wines says high demand for its wines from new and repeat customers across all its markets during the coronavirus pandemic mean that it now expects its full-year revenues to slightly ahead of expectations. Read the full story here.

How online prices of high-demand items are changing: ONS

Today’s weekly Coronavirus (Covid-19) round-up from the Office for National Statistics suggests that online prices for high-demand products, such as toilet roll, pasta and handwash, rose by an average of 1.5% between the week to March 29 and the week to April 5. The fastest price rises appear to have come in pet food (+6.2%), nappies (+5.8%) and tinned soup (+4.9%), with paracetamol (+2.6%) and dried pasta (+2%) also up. Food products as a category rose by 0.8% in price while household and hygiene products were up by 0.7%. Rice (-11.7%) and cough and cold medications (-4.6%) showed the largest price falls.  

The ONS report also cites Google’s Covid-19 Community Mobility Report which suggests that by March 29 visits to retail and recreation locations were down by 85% compared to the baseline period of January 3 to February 6. Grocery and pharmacy shopping visits were down by 45% against the baseline, having risen by 24% just before school closures were announced on March 20. 

Image courtesy of Boots

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