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UPDATED Coronavirus round-up: Shopping apps boom, ‘essential’ Halfords re-opens, Hermes doubles lockers, Aldi staff bonus, Co-op redeploys, Amazon pickers panic and more…

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We’re reporting on the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the way UK shoppers buy – and on how retailers are responding to that changing behaviour. This update comes as 8077 positive cases have been confirmed by Public Health England as of 9am on March 24 and 422 people have died.


The increasingly draconian measures to force people apart – not least closing all shops, though it is heartening to see that Off Licences have been deemed ‘essential’ – is driving an ever-growing move to ecommerce. Analysts at Mckinsey suggest that ecommerce is going to go from 20 to 40% of retail over the next few months and is unlikely to go back.

This is already being borne out in the download of shopping apps, believes Poq, which has seen app downloads from its platform up 100% in past seven days, as shoppers start to move to using their phones to buy everything from essentials to treats.

Poq is now predicting that the Coronavirus lockdown in the UK is likely to see the share of ecommerce traffic generated through apps hit 25% in 2020.

Meanwhile, mobile payments company Bango has assessed how users of its service in regions already through the Coronavirus first wave used their devices and has found, unsurprisingly, that spending on food deliveries rose by 30% in the first week of containment then rocketed by 40% during the first week of lockdown in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Online goods saw 11% and 21% increases respectively over the same periods. These were the two biggest growth sectors – closely followed by streaming – for the regions.


As further clarification is made to this week’s further lockdown measures, the UK government has asked home and garden stores to also close. B&Q is open today for outstanding click-and-collect orders, but is then shutting its doors and looking to trade online.

“Our online business, is open 24/7. We will continue to offer a contactless home delivery service,” says CEO Graham Bell.

Meanwhile, Halfords has had clarification that, as a quasi-garage and bike shop, it is deemed an essential retailer. It had closed its stores as of Monday night, but is hoping to open some by “the end of this week”.

In a statement, CEO Graham Stapleton, said: “We’re fundamentally changing the way our stores operate. To keep our colleagues and customers safe, we will be offering a ‘Drive in, fit and repair’ proposition for essential motoring and cycling services alongside a ‘Drive in pick or collect point for products’. Essentially, we won’t be inviting customers into our stores, but providing services and collection from the front of store, all within the social distancing rules. 

He continues: “We will no longer be accepting cash payments and customers won’t be asked to sign refund paperwork. And, as you’d expect, we’ll be enforcing a strict two metre rule and ensuring that our colleagues have the cleaning materials to support hygiene guidelines. These are just some of the steps we are taking to keep colleagues and customers safe. I give you my personal guarantee that we will only open stores and garages, and operate our mobile services, where we are able to implement these measures fully. We are doing all we can to be accessible to those who need us most at this time.”


Carrier Hermes has increased the number of lockers available for its customers to use to return or send items.

The lockers, operated in partnership with InPost, are located in a variety of safe and secure outdoor locations around the UK and are open 24/7 hours, enabling people to access them during quiet times without the need for personal interaction.

There are also plans in place for additional InPost lockers throughout the country, including sites close to hospitals to support NHS staff and other key workers. Locations can be found in the Hermes ParcelShop finder.

Martijn de Lange, CEO at Hermes UK, says: “We have increased the numbers of outdoor lockers located in local communities from 450 to 831, enabling more of our customers to send and return parcels in a safe way during these challenging circumstances. We would ask people to use the lockers sensibly and to be mindful of the government advice regarding essential travel and suggest that customers might consider using this service as part of their daily exercise routine. This is also important as some of our independent ParcelShops may be subject to changing opening times or closure as things develop and we are urging customers to double check ParcelShop openings before they travel to them.”


Aldi is aping a growing-number US food retailers in pledeing to pay its store staff a 10% bonus for the extra hours and duties they have been doing since 9 March. It has also announced dedicated shopping times for Emergency Workers and increased support for small suppliers – opening between 9.30am-10.00am on Sundays solely for key workers in the NHS, Police and Fire Service. Eligible customers will be able to take priority at checkouts when they open at 10am. Entry to Aldi stores between 9.30am – 10.00am* will be with relevant ID only.  

As part of its ongoing support for small suppliers, Aldi has today announced it will reduce payment terms so that any supplier with a turnover of less than £1m will now be paid immediately. This will benefit some 1,000 Aldi suppliers. 

Aldi has already made a number of financial commitments to key partners, including Neighbourly, which distributes surplus food and other donations to those in need, Teenage Cancer Trust, and Age UK. All stores’ opening hours have been shortened slightly to close at 8pm, instead of 10pm, to give our colleagues some additional rest and allow the stores to be restocked at their best every day


Staff from 24 Co-op travel shops are being redeployed to help support the chain’s food stores in an effort to ensure the community continues to be served. All travel shops will temporarily close, but customers will still be able to contact a dedicated team of travel colleagues who are looking after enquiries and bookings via email and phone.

“With our food stores busier than ever, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our travel shops so that we can redeploy our colleagues to support our stores, our food colleagues and our communities,” says Paul Dale, head of travel at the Co-op.


Amazon workers are ‘petrified’ of being infected by COVID-19 after being left to work in packed warehouses, without hand sanitiser or personal protection equipment as productivity targets grow, according to reports from the GMB Union 

The Union says that it has report that people at fulfilment centres across the UK say they are being left in crowds of 200 to 300 people and having to reuse equipment multiple times with no hand sanitiser available.  Workers say water dispensers are used over-and-over again without being disinfected, dirty canteen tables with used tissues on them, team leaders giving feedback without staying two metres away and no sanitiser of alcohol wipes to clean equipment. 

Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, explains: “We are so angry about this – these workers are petrified of catching and spreading COVID-19 and rightly so. Amazon is blatantly disregarding the two metre social distancing rules, there are no masks, no sanitiser and with the vast amount of people working there there’s no way of keeping them from getting ill. It’s impossible for Amazon workers to keep a safe distance from each other and hit their productivity targets. Amazon has a duty of care – not just to its own workers but to the whole of the British public.”


As reports of food banks being raided and panic buying continues, Lidl is introducing new customer food donation boxes in its stores as it looks to help local community groups and people in need of food and supplies.

The scheme forms part of an extension of the retailer’s ‘Feed in Back’ initiative which is run in partnership with Neighbourly and customers will be able to donate any food or grocery items through special boxes placed in stores. Items collected will then be distributed to organisations such as food banks, community centres and soup kitchens.


Online marketplace Fruugo is waiving its joining fee and offering a free marketing boost to new sellers that come on board in the next month.

Currently, sellers joining Fruugo would pay a £995 fee when they join the platform, however the marketplace has noticed a boost in sales across many of its categories and wants to help other businesses see these positive effects. In addition, Fruugo will give these new sellers additional marketing support on the site for the first month.

With many of Fruugo’s global shoppers being in lockdown and having to get used to ’working from home’, the platform has seen a shift in how consumers are shopping. Products linked to staying indoors – including home office equipment, games and children’s toys and home gym and fitness equipment – are seeing a particular increase in sales. Likewise sales of health and wellbeing products including vitamins and supplements are also seeing strong growth.


Never has ‘contactless payments’ been such a loaded term: and now the contactless limit has been raised from £30 to £45 This decision to increase the limit was taken to help customers avoid making unnecessary contact with the keypad and cashier at checkouts, and to prevent the handling of cash which is likely to carry viruses and bacteria. 

In fact, cash usage in Britain has halved in the past few days, according to Link, which operates the UK’s biggest network of ATMs and contactless is on the up.

UK Finance, which represents the big banks, said: “Given the pace at which this change is being rolled out, the new limits will take some time to be introduced across all retailers, including some of those facing additional pressure due to the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Mobile phone users can already make contactless payments of more than £30, if the retailer accepts, by holding their phone over the reader and entering their normal card pin on their phone.

There is no official limit on the amount a customer can spend when using Apple Pay, but some retailers have their own ceiling.

Advocates of checkout-less technology are already eyeing the prize. Will Broome, CEO of Ubamarket, believes that ‘Scan, Pay, Go!’ technology allows customers to scan products as they shop, be guided around the store with a supermarket sat-nav, and completely bypass the tills and queues by paying for their shopping in-app.

The usage of this app drastically reduces the amount of time spent in-store for customers, but still allows them to effectively purchase all goods and avoid any potentially dangerous contact at the tills, whilst enabling retailers to cater to more customers and better assess the consumer demand for all products, he says.

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