Jewellery chain Michael Hill has closed all stores worldwide in response to the unprecedented shift in consumer behaviour and rapidly changing government regulations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The retailer has more than 300 stores across Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but is now selling online only in a bid to reduce costs and comply with public health measures.
While it is not legally required to close stores in Australia, the retailer on Tuesday suspended operations of its bricks-and-mortar network for an indefinite period of time with immediate effect.
Michael Hill said that the current guidelines on social distancing in Australia are not consistent with the day-to-day conduct of its business and that it has experienced a drop-off in trade as consumers shift their focus – and their spending – to more immediate issues.
The retailer has also suspended store operations in New Zealand, where a near total shutdown is set to take effect at 11:59pm on Wednesday.
All non-essential businesses in New Zealand will be forced to close for four weeks. Currently, only supermarkets, pharmacies, service stations and health and other essential services are exempt from the lockdown.
Michael Hill said its store closures there will last for an indefinite period.
The retailer has also extended the two-week shutdown of its stores in Canada, which it announced on March 20 in compliance with public health guidance, for an indefinite period.
Michael Hill has stood down team members in all three markets and deferred payment of its interim dividend of 1.5 cents per share for a period of six months. It is also undertaking a strategic review of its corporate support centre with a view to reducing costs.
“The Board and management team have acted swiftly today following the extraordinary circumstances that are impacting the Australian and New Zealand retail markets,” Emma Hill, chair of Michael Hill, said in a statement to the ASX on Tuesday.
“Whilst it is clear that the suspension of our store networks is necessary for the safety and wellbeing of our people and our customers – we also know that this will be a time of great uncertainty for them too, and we are doing our best to provide them with the support that they need through this difficult time.”
Michael Hill is among the first Australian retailers to close stores on a mass scale in this country, despite not being required to do so.
There is currently a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and all spaces must reduce their capacity to 4sqm per person, but only pubs, cinemas, casinos and other entertainment venues have been forced to close, and restaurants and cafes have been restricted to takeaway and home delivery services only.
State Governments have threatened to enforce more sweeping shutdowns, but so far they are not in effect.
In addition, numerous small retailers have been forced to close stores due to the drop-off in foot traffic.