A UK retailer is calling for traditional competitors to agree to suspend their warehouse operations for online fulfilment in a bid to protect the safety of staff.
Richard Davies, MD of Hattons Model Railways, a member of InternetRetailing’s RXUK ranking index for top-performing online retailers, told InternetRetailing that he had begun canvassing his traditional competitors this morning to resolve what he called a “deadlock” in the industry.
Davies proposes that online retailers continue to accept orders via their site, while advising customers that orders accepted after a certain point (2PM on 26 March) will not be fulfilled until a later date (13 April). Retailers would continue to receive stock into warehouses and continue marketing.
Meanwhile, brands would be encouraged to suspend their own direct-to-consumer despatch and suspend the release of new items.
He told InternetRetailing that retailers were currently “looking over their shoulders” and it was time to “draw breath and realise that you’ve got a responsibility.”
This non-aggression pact would be facilitated by the government support that has been offered, particularly subsidising the wages of workers who would otherwise be made redundant.
Discussions continue amongst the retailers in the sector.
Davies said he didn’t believe retailers wanted to gain an advantage during the crisis but were afraid of losing ground to competitors who continued to operate. He also warned that retailers may face “name and shame” campaigns.
Davies’s intervention comes as prominent retailers have faced criticism for keeping stores open during the pandemic, including bookseller Waterstones. Prime minister Boris Johnson has told all “non-essential retailers” to shut their stores, but there remains some ambiguity about what qualifies as “essential”.
There has so far been less scrutiny on online retailers keeping warehouse operations open. However, warehouses still risk bringing workers into close contact for extended periods on a regular basis.
The pandemic has already forced greater cooperation between traditional rivals in the grocery space, where the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) relaxed rules to allow the likes of Sainsbury’s and Tesco to work together. Supermarkets have been sharing inventory data and delivery vans to meet the sudden spike in demand caused by the virus.
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