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EDITORIAL Customers come up against the limits of online shopping as coronavirus hits

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting as the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus continue to be felt on UK retail.

We’ve continued our rolling coverage of how customer behaviour is changing as a result of the pandemic, and how online and multichannel retailers are responding to that. Today that includes news of how Ikea is closing stores and how M&S is moving staff from home and clothing into its food section while expanding its online non-food businesses, and grocers are hiring staff urgently to handle tasks from online deliveries to in-store shelf stacking and customer servcie. Wickes’ demerger from the Travis Perkins group is being delayed, and Hotel Chocolat is raising £20m on the stockmarkets. IRX 2020, previously delayed by the coronavirus, has now set a new date: for September 1 and 2. 

We report on IMRG retail sales figures for February – which show that online retail sales growth was flat, at best, even before coronavirus hit. Fashion-to-homewares retailer Next shows how retail is changing more broadly as shoppers have shifted their attention online. It already puts its stores at the service of online as a hub for collections and returns. 

ScS shows in its half-year results that more of its customers are now willing to buy sofas and carpets online. Its ecommerce sales grew by almost a quarter compared to the same time last year – but still account for a relatively low proportion of its sales. 

The balance will no doubt shift further online, as illustrated in GlobalData’s analysis of Mother’s Day sales. It suggests that sales around the event will be lower than last year. Even if the wish to buy gifts is high, this year shoppers are likely to be less able to buy on the high street, and more likely to turn online. But online retailing is currently structured around lower levels of online shopping. That’s particularly true in groceries, where only 5% of shopping has previously taken place online: something that is no doubt already changing in the short term. We’ll expect to be reporting in the coming months as retailers step up the proportion of sales made online. Whether that change is permanent will remain to be seen.

Our guest comment today is very relevant to that expected growth in online retailing. Barristers Keith Morton QC and Fiona Canby of Temple Garden Chambers ask how retailers can mitigate the air quality risks of both their deliveries and their other operations. 

Image: Adobe Stock

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