Mass closures as Premier, Accent, Lovisa and others shut stores

Thousands of stores will close across Australia this week as some of the country’s largest retailers take drastic action to cut costs in the face of falling foot traffic due to COVID-19.

Premier Investments, the owner of Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Jacqui E and Dotti, is temporarily closing all stores in Australia from 6pm today, March 26, and standing down most of its employees except for a small number of people required to perform limited essential work.

The company has already closed stores in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, and furloughed over 9000 employees globally.

Lovisa has also announced the indefinite closure of stores in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, effective today.

The jewellery chain has already closed stores in France, Spain, Malaysia, the US and UK, and is currently only trading in Singapore. It is standing down store teams and reducing support staff in all markets.

And Accent Group is closing its entire store network for four weeks from 5pm on Friday, March 28. Over 500 Hype DC, Platypus, The Athlete’s Foot and The Trybe stores will close, and all retail store staff and most support office staff will be stood down without pay.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Michael Hill and Noni B owner Mosaic Brands have also announced sweeping store closures, alongside APG & Co, which owns Saba, Sportscraft and Jag, Retail Apparel Group, which owns Tarocash, Connor, Johnny Bigg and yd., and many others.

Chief executive of the National Retail Association Dominique Lamb said it has become untenable for retailers in discretionary categories like fashion to keep their doors open.

“Financially, it’s a smarter decision to close,” she told Inside Retail.

Foot traffic in shopping centres last week fell 46.3 per cent year on year, according to data from ShopperTrak, reflecting official advice to practice social distancing amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic. Consumer confidence is now at a 30-year low, according to Roy Morgan.

But the Federal Government still isn’t backing a broader shutdown of non-essential businesses.

Currently, pubs, cinemas, casinos and other entertainment venues, as well as beauty therapy and waxing businesses and tattoo and massage parlours are not allowed to trade, and restaurants and cafes are restricted to takeaway and home delivery only.

Meanwhile, more and more retailers say they have no choice but to close stores to protect the health of their staff and customers, and keep their business afloat.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have made this decision, but we believe this to be in the best interests of the health and wellbeing of our team members,” Daniel Agostinelli, Accent Group CEO, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The company intends to do everything possible to return the business to normal operations when environmental conditions normalise, whilst always prioritising the safety and wellbeing of our team.”

Lamb said she expects the Federal Government to provide further directions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the coming days, but said it was hard to know whether the closure of non-essential retail would be among them.

“The benefit of having a direction [to close] particularly around retail is that it would give [businesses] an ability to not pay rent,” she said.

While the national cabinet recently moved to ensure tenants cannot be evicted for not paying their rent for the next six months, this doesn’t go far enough, according to Lamb.

“At the end of the six-month period, they will still have massive debt owing.”

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