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Stores continue to close their doors against the threat of Covid-19

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The Government has not – yet – ordered the closure of non-essential shops, but many have now taken that decision for themselves, citing customer and staff safety. By the end of Friday, retailers including all Arcadia Group brands, Gap and Ikea had closed their shops. Over the weekend more retailers – such as The Body Shop – joined them and today Mountain Warehouse said its stores would also be closing from the end of today. Its founder Mark Neale said, in a message to customers: “Although the government has not asked stores like ours to close at this point, we will temporarily be closing all UK & Ireland stores from close of business today to enable our staff to follow the latest guidance on social distancing and help manage the risk. Please rest assured that we are fully committed to supporting our whole team through this difficult time.”

Waterstones posted a message to its website at 5pm yesterday to say those of its stores that were still opened would be closing from the end of today. It had faced criticism on social media as staff spoke out about feeling under pressure at work.

Most retailers that have closed their shops are directing shoppers who still want to buy to their online websites instead, with some offering alternative ways of picking up click and collect orders and others deciding to suspend their click and collect services. That’s going to mean a new emphasis on engaging with shoppers online. 

How John Lewis is engaging with shoppers

John Lewis, which is to close its 50 stores from the end of today while keeping most of its Waitrose Food Halls open, is relocating staff to sister business Waitrose – where John Lewis click and collect orders can also be picked up. The retailer, ranked Elite in RXUK Top500 research, is also making customer service staff available to talk to its shoppers directly or via its social media channels, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. 

Bérangère Michel, John Lewis customer service director, says in an email to customers: “We know the coming days and weeks will be filled with uncertainty and we want to help support you and your families as best as we can. We’ll be exploring ways to offer partner-led services remotely, which could include nursery or well-being advice, and craft and cookery classes provided by partners online, or on one to one calls.”

The effect on store-only Primark

Primark, a retailer that has stood out in recent years for its decision not to sell online, has now closed all its 376 shops in 12 countries, as of yesterday. In a message on the home page of its non-transactional website, it says it will keep in touch with customers on its social channels, and is offering content including a soundtrack for self-isolation along with style tips, advice on celebrating Mother’s Day, and more. 

It has stopped placing new orders for stock and its parent company, Associated British Foods, said in a statement today that the shutdown would cost it £650m a month in net sales. 

The company says it has reacted by cutting back on discretionary spending and it is also looking to reduce fixed costs in discussions with landlords. 

Commenting, Chris Field, chairman of Retail Connections, said: “Primark has always said that the ecommerce model simply doesn’t work for them. The costs of home delivery and the expensive logistical issue of returns have kept the value-led business purely bricks and mortar. But in troubled times customers expect retailers to meet their needs in other ways. While the likes of Next, TopShop, New Look and River Island can advise customers to ‘switch online’ for their fashion and accessories as we head into spring and summer, Primark simply can’t. If they want to save sales, ABF has a big decision to make.

“All retailers will be using the next 12 weeks to think even more deeply about their on/off line mix, because striking the right balance for consumers that move seamlessly between channels will be the next big challenge.”

Image: Adobe Stock

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