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Retailers prepare for deluge of customers as lockdown eases

As retail restrictions across the country are lifted over the next few weeks, more and more retailers are beginning the first steps of waking their physical stores from a state of hibernation. 

Brands such as Cotton On, Peter Alexander and Smiggle have started reopening to the public, and are preparing for the surge of customers that have been seen in states where restrictions are already lifted. 

South Australia, for example, saw thousands of customers flock to shopping centres after restrictions were eased over the weekend.

“We could well understand after a period of lockdown that people would want to get out,” Deputy chief medical officer Mike Cusack said. 

“But clearly the more we have bunched together the more opportunity the virus has to jump from person to person.”

And with several states set to ease restrictions at the end of this week, retailers are making efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re taking a measured and highly considered approach to ensure the health and safety of our team members and customers remains our top priority and have a re-open plan in place,” a Cotton On Group statement said, which is progressively reopening its 650 national stores.

The plan includes reduced store opening hours, limiting the number of people instore at any one time, increased cleaning and sanitation and contactless payment options.

Several businesses opened earlier, however. Accent Group, Lovisa, Superdry, Hush Puppies and more opened doors toward the end of April, having decided they would be able to operate safely in the current climate. 

Similarly, retail conglomerate Premier Investments will be reopening the balance of its stores from Friday 15 May, after reopening in Queensland and the Northern Territory last week. 

Customers across Peter Alexander, Smiggle, Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Jacqui E and Dotti will be offered hand sanitiser, be required to practice social distancing in store, and will be encouraged to download the government’s non-compulsory COVIDSafe app.

Premier Investment paid no rent across its entire retail portfolio for the period the business’ stores were closed and has no intention of repaying this sum. Moving forward, it will pay rent in arrears based on a percentage of gross sales.

What those sales will look like, however, is still up in the air according to Premier. During the six weeks the business’ stores were shut, total global sales fell 74 per cent compared to the prior year, while online sales grew 99 per cent. 

“In this recovery period, Premier Retail’s sales and margin by store, by country, by brand and by region are highly uncertain and will be dictated predominantly by the manner in which consumers respond to the return of instore shopping in their local communities, bound by strict social distancing rules and health guidelines,” Premier said. 

“Given the uncertainty around the timing of the recovery, it is impossible to forecast the extent of the impact on 2H20 earnings until we have actualised the result.”

While retailers and landlords have recently struggled to come to agreement on how rent should be calculated during this period, industry groups recently came together to release a retail recovery protocol to facilitate more retailers opening their doors. 

“As more people return to shopping centres, we want to assure the community our industry is working hand-in-hand to ensure that strict public health guidelines are followed and that we provide a safe, healthy and secure environment,” Angus Nardi, chief executive of the SCCA, said in a statement.

The protocol includes ten actions retailers and shopping centres can take in order to properly trade within the government’s social distancing requirements. 

Actions include making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available at key locations, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of regularly used objects and hard surfaces, encouraging 1.5 metre social distancing, enforcing the new one person per 4sqm capacity limit and daily check-ins with staff to ensure they are properly trained and have access to PPE.

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