But a number of other companies, including Accent Group, Lovisa and Brand Collective, are beginning to reopen stores, albeit with reduced capacity limits and new customer service processes to remain compliant with the latest health and safety requirements.
Accent Group CEO Daniel Agostinelli told Inside Retail Weekly that the decision to reopen stores is the result of greater clarity from the Government around what the new safety requirements actually are.
“When we closed all of our stores, we didn’t have any of those measures. We didn’t understand what social distancing actually meant at that stage,” he said.
Accent Group also didn’t have any hand sanitiser in stock or a way to train staff to conduct shoe fittings while remaining 1.5 metres apart. The company quickly pivoted to address these shortcomings after closing stores on March 27, and staff have been trialling the new procedures in select stores over the past two weeks.
Agostinelli said the goal is for the business to be ready to trade safely when some of the current social distancing restrictions are expected to lift on May 11. That includes having hand sanitiser stations in all stores, disposable try-on socks and contactless payment at checkouts. He expects these new procedures to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Lovisa also appears to have reopened stores in Australia, according to information provided by a customer service representative and store opening hours listed online. IRW asked Lovisa to confirm the details of its reopening but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Martin Matthews, CEO of Brand Collective, which operates a large portfolio of retail brands, including Superdry and Hush Puppies, told IRW he expects to reopen some stores this week at the earliest, but stores in states where restrictions are tighter, such as Victoria and New South Wales, may not reopen until later in May..
Even in those states, most retailers were technically never forced to close. But with people being told to stay home except for essential purposes, many businesses in discretionary categories like fashion felt they had no choice but to shut.
Now that stores are beginning to reopen, Agostinelli wants the Government to clearly tell customers they can safely and responsibly resume shopping for shoes and other non-essential items.
“We would like a much clearer directive from the Government, scientists and doctors to advise where it’s safe to shop and how to do it,” he said. “Everything we’re reading says it is, providing you practice social distancing. That’s a very big shift from back in March when we had to close stores.”
Even so, most retail leaders don’t expect foot traffic or sales to recover for several months. And that may be why some retailers are choosing to stay closed, besides their concern for staff and customer safety.
Funtastic chairman and ex-Myer boss Bernie Brookes believes the coronavirus has become a lifeboat for struggling retailers, which are using the crisis as a shortcut to restructure their business.
“Fashion, for example, is in trouble and in most cases it is saving money to close,” he told IRW.
Premier Investments has stated publicly that it won’t reopen stores unless landlords reduce rents, which retail consultant Peter James Ryan sees as a short-term negotiating tactic.
“Part of being a good retailer is opportunism. But morality is an important value and there are many who put that in a corporate values statement but don’t live it,” he told IRW.
Ryan warned that efforts to prop up poorly structured retailers now, via reduced rents, ultimately bankrolled by Government subsidies and taxpayers’ dollars, will come back to bite the industry in the end.
“The higher the compensation burden, the less money the community will have to spend at retail anyway, so we are often talking here about extreme opportunism to the benefit of the few rather than it being fairly spread,” he warned.
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