Coronavirus threat: What measures are retailers taking?

Now that the World Health Organisation has declared the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, and as many as 10,000 people in the UK might be infected, we are starting to see the impact on the British high street.

A wave of store closures due to the Covid-19 virus were announced last week (w/c 9 March 2020), with US brands taking the lead. Non-food and pharmacy store closures are expected to become more widespread in the coming weeks. However, to date the UK Government has chosen not to recommend the closure of shops, restaurants, bars or schools.

All Apple UK, Nike and Urban Outfitters stores have closed with immediate effect due to the outbreak. Cult beauty brand Glossier has closed its Covent Garden pop-up, and Selfridges is reducing trading hours at it UK outlets.

Apple store Covent GardenCentral London shopping areas hit hard

When Retail Connections visited Covent Garden, London on Saturday 14th March, the famous concourse and surrounding streets were sparsely populated – very different from the usual weekend crowds of tourists and fashion fans.

The Covent Garden Apple flagship was shut, with staff standing outside using iPads to help customers with specific problems. The Glossier pop-up on nearby Floral Street was also closed. A notice on the door stated: “In the interest of public health we’ve made the proactive decision to close our doors for at least two weeks, beginning Friday 13th March.”

Nike store workers continue to get paid

The sportswear giant has announced that all Nike stores in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand will be closed from March 16 to March 27.

Stores in South Korea, Japan, most of China and many other countries remain open. Hourly employees affected by store closures will continue to receive their regular pay. Apple is also committing to ‘hourly employees’ still getting paid.

Primark forced to take action

Shares in Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) have been suspended, amid falling sales during the pandemic.

This comes after the discount clothing retailer said it had been forced to temporarily close stores which make up a third of its sales due to coronavirus. ABF said that it has shut branches in France, Italy, Spain and Austria, until the respective governments permit them to reopen. These shops account for 20% of Primark’s selling space and 30% of sales.

Last month, ABF warned there was a risk of supply shortages on some lines later in the year if factory delays in China caused by coronavirus are prolonged.

Ikea sends 2,300 staff home from Swedish HQ

Retailers around the world must also consider their head office teams. Ikea’s headquarters in Almhult, southern Sweden, has been closed for two days for a deep clean in order to prevent the coronavirus spreading within the company.

Several of the furniture giant’s 2,300 staff have reported flu-like symptoms and one has tested positive for the coronavirus after a holiday abroad, although they did not return to the office after the vacation.

H&MH&M limits cash transactions

In the UK, H&M has announced a new policy in limiting cash transactions for health reasons.

H&M wrote in an email to customers on Saturday 14th March: “The safety and wellbeing of our teams and customers is our top priority. As we continue to monitor the developments of the novel coronavirus, we wanted to take a moment to reassure you of the steps we are taking as a brand and trusted community partner.”

All H&M stores are now temporarily closed in Italy – the second worst affected country after China – and during the weekend all stores were also closed temporarily in Poland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Belgium, France and partly in Greece.

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