Retail reacts to the Melbourne shutdown

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed many retailers’ worst fears on Monday. (Source: ABC)

Less than 24 hours after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed many retailers’ worst fears and announced the shutdown of non-essential services in Melbourne for the next six weeks, Inside Retail has spoken with multiple senior leaders about the impact the new restrictions will have on their business. Listed companies have also issued statements laying out their plans to comply with the new rules and continue to serve their customers.

By and large, these conversations and statements reveal a broad understanding of the need for the shutdown and a determination to focus on the positives – the fact that contactless deliveries and click-and-collect will be permitted in stage 4.

However, one senior leader has already called for the restrictions to be reviewed and potentially rolled back before the six weeks are up, and another has said the shutdown could have been avoided if tougher restrictions were put in place sooner.

Inside Retail has excerpted the most relevant insights from these conversations and statements below:

Brand Collective: “We are able to pivot and adapt”

“As a business with a strong e-commerce arm, we are able to pivot and adapt, and our delivery partners will be able to fulfil online order deliveries,” said Anne Natale, general manager of retail at Brand Collective, which owns a portfolio of fashion and footwear brands, including Superdry, Hush Puppies and Volley.

Brand Collective has 47 stores in metropolitan Melbourne, but it won’t be offering contactless pick-up from these locations, according to Natale, and that will inevitably impact workers.

“Our in-store rosters had been scaled back reasonably significantly in line with sales demand in Melbourne recently, however this recently announced hard closure will see further reductions,” she said.

“Wherever possible, we will seek to pivot and redeploy staff to assist our online business across other roles including order fulfilment and customer support.”

Natale did not mince words about the impact of the shutdown.

“The impacts of the hard closure are significant for our customers, wholesale partners and [Brand Collective] team members,” she said.

“[H]owever, we acknowledge the important role the restrictions play in slowing the spread of Covid-19 within Victoria.”

Hairhouse: “Challenge always drives great innovation”

Hairhouse has 100 stores nationally and about 40 of these are located in metropolitan Melbourne. The hair salon-slash-retailer aims to offer click-and-collect from most if not all of these stores, as well as same-day delivery for online orders, thanks to a partnership with food delivery company Door Dash that was forged during the first lockdown.

“This was a critical pivot born out of the changing landscape of the ‘last mile’ as it pertains to meeting customers ‘where they are’,” said Johanna Scully, chief marketing officer at Hairhouse.

Scully acknolwedged that the restrictions will “hamper” a portion of the store network, but she said, “challenge always drives great innovation and opportunity”.

The Door Dash partnership is one example of this. Another is a virtual online consultation service, which was also developed in the first lockdown. Scully said both of these offerings will serve the Melbourne store network well over the next six weeks.

“We are an omnichannel retailer that encompasses both retail and service models, so we are committed to weathering this period and continuing to engage with our valuable customer base including our compromised Victorian customers,” she said.

According to Scully, Hairhouse has weathered many varieties of storm over its more than 25 years and managed to not only survive, but thrive.

“We can now add ‘global pandemic’ to this list,” she said.

Wesfarmers: “Try and reduce the devastating toll”

In compliance with the stage 4 restrictions, all Kmart and Target stores in metropolitan Melbourne will be closed to the public from Thursday, and Bunnings and Officeworks stores in the city will only be open to trade and business customers, respectively. The retailers will all continue to sell online and offer contactless delivery and click and collect.

But Rob Scott, chief executive of the retailers’ parent company Wesfarmers, has called for the stage 4 restrictions to be reviewed and potentially rolled back before the six weeks are up.

“There’s an opportunity in a very measured, risk-based way, that we review this over the coming weeks as the New Zealand government did as they worked through their lockdown,” Scott told Radio National on Tuesday, according to the AAP.

He argued that large format retailers like Officeworks and Bunnings would be able to safely serve customers in-store because they could spread out.

“I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks as we start to see the demand coming from coming from households and families for additional products and as we as we try and reduce the devastating toll this is going to place on household budgets that we can find a way to keep product flowing in a safe way.”

Premier: “Should have moved faster”

Shortly after the Premier’s statement on Monday afternoon, Solomon Lew, the owner and executive chairman of Premier Investments, which owns Smiggle, Peter Alexander and Just Group retail brands, hit out at the Government and landlords for not doing more to curb the coronavirus outbreak sooner. Lew’s full statement is below:

“The situation in Victoria has escalated and public health needs to be protected above all else. While this is the right step, acting sooner could have prevented a lot of illness and unnecessary deaths.

“In my view the Andrews Government should have moved faster to tighten restrictions. Delaying has only placed further pressure on the rest of the country and the national economy. We expect significant consequences from the inaction, in particular, vast amounts of cost in Federal Government stimulus that is going to be required to support the Victorian community through this challenging period.

“Notwithstanding Premier Andrews’ request weeks ago for people to stay home, shopping centres in Victoria have remained open. While Just Group had elected to close all of its stores in the Melbourne metropolitan area in the interests of protecting our employees and our customers, landlords should have followed suit in prioritising the health and safety of their shoppers ahead of collecting rent.”

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