Covid-19 Crisis: Daily Retail Update

The coronavirus crisis is the most dramatic public health emergency in living memory – with extraordinary measures impacting both shoppers, retailers and businesses around the world.

How is retail coping with the pandemic? Social distancing and self isolation puts a whole new spin on the concerns of the ‘death of the high street’. But with public guidance changing as quickly as the infection seems to spread, the industry is doing all it can to respond accordingly and meet the demands of consumers.

Here, we will update this article to share the latest news on how this pandemic is impacting the retail sector as a whole. Check back in daily to stay informed.

We are no longer updating this article on a daily basis. Please head over to our May Daily Retail Update for the latest Covid-19 news impacting retail.

Here are some of the fascinating insights from the RetailEXPO Virtual Conference, sponsored by Essential Retail, held on 29-30 April 2020:

Thursday 30 April 2020

Join us for day two of the RetailEXPO Virtual Conference, powered by Essential Retail. 

TKMaxx: The discount fashion retailer has resumed online operations after ensuring the safety of its warehouse staff. TKMax has also launched a number of charitable initiatives to help communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Sainsbury's: The grocer reported on its full-year financial results today. Pre-tax profits dropped 2% to £586 million. The retailer also noted that the surge in sales up to lockdown led to five days that were busier than peak Christmas trading. 

Oasis and Warehouse: Administrators have failed to find a buyer for the two high street names, with stores and online due to close, resulting in over 1,800 jobs. 

Government: In Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first appearance at the daily briefing since contracting Covid-19, he said the UK has passed the coronavirus peak. He announced that the government is working on a comprehensive plan which he will release next week to get the economy moving again, as well as returning children to school and to get travel up and running to support a return to work.

Before we can leave lockdown, the PM must be satisfied that the UK will pass ‘five key tests’ before these plans can be put into action. The main test is to ensure the rate of infection (R) is below ‘1’. R has only just dropped below 1 and this must remain so before social distancing measures can be adjusted.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Today is the first day of the RetailEXPO Virtual Conference, powered by Essential Retail

Join webinar sessions across the two days and hear from the likes of Tesco,, Facebook, The Very Group, River Island and Pizza Hut to learn how they are tackling the short-term disruption and planning for long-term changes ahead.

Dixons Carphone: The electricals retailer has reported a huge surge in online sales in the five weeks leading up 25 April, increasing by 166% in that period. This helped Dixons Carphone increase its year-on-year sales by 1% in the year ended 25 April despite the closure of stores during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Next: The clothing retailer has reported a 41% reduction in sales in the period 26 January to 25 April 2020 due to store closures as a result of Covid-19. This includes a 32% fall in online sales in the same period, with its eCommerce operations temporarily closed for 18 days as the crisis developed.

Tesco: Following the rapid expansion of its eCommerce operations in recent weeks, Tesco has become the first UK retailer to fulfil over 1 million online grocery orders in a single week. It is continuing to expand its delivery capacity, and hopes to reach 1.2 million weekly slots in the coming weeks.

Currys PC World: The electricals retailer has launched a virtual shopping experience to enable customers to receive expert advice during the Covid-19 lockdown. The initiative, called ShopLive, allows customers to speak to store experts via video link when they visit the Currys PC World website.

Grocery: Mintel is predicting online grocery sales will increase 33% in 2020 as more consumers turn to home delivery to see them through the coronavirus crisis. 

Homebase: CEO Damian McGloughlin says 50 UK Homebase stores will re-open today. These stores will join the 20 stores which have already been trialling new ways of shopping with social distancing and safety in mind.  

Essential Retail takes a look at how the beer and wine industry has been impacted by coronavirus and how business strategies are changing to cope with home delivery demand.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

M&S: The retailer has said it has secured additional liquidity to help it navigate through the Covid-19 crisis. This includes an agreement with lenders to substantially relax or remove covenant conditions for tests arising this year and next on its revolving credit facility. M&S said that its food business had been affected by the closure of its cafes and slowdown of travel into city centres.

Travis Perkins: In a trading update published today, the building materials group said that Wickes and Toolstation are operating their stores as mini warehouses, providing supplies for home delivery, or for click & collect. Both retailers have closed their stores to the public as the virus escalated in the UK, despite being classified as essential retailers by the government.

Games Workshop: The fantasy wargames manufacturer and retailer has announced it will start selling its goods online in the UK again this week having closed down its eCommerce operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Having made health and safety changes to its warehouse facilities, it is now ready to resume online trading.

Economy: New figures from Barclaycard, which handles around half of contactless payments in the UK, reveal a rapid up-take of the new contactless limit of £45 that was introduced in some stores at the start of this month. It said that 43% of in-store transactions between £30 and £45 are now contactless.

Monday 27 April 2020

Economy: UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has announced a new fast-tracked loan scheme for small businesses in addition to the other financial packages already announced. Small companies, including retailers, will be able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 under the scheme, accessing the cash within days. The loans will be 100% backed by the government, who will also pay all interest and fees for the first 12 months. 

John Lewis: The retailer has announced it is reopening its textiles factory in Lancashire to make 8,000 protective gowns for the Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust in the Covid-19 crisis. A number of John Lewis’ expert sewers will be brought back from furlough for this operation. These partners normally sew bespoke blinds, curtains and pillows and duvets at the factory.

Farfetch: The online fashion marketplace has announced the fourth cohort for its Dream Assembly start-up programme, in which start ups receive mentorship, networking opportunities and support to help shape the future of fashion and retail using technology. The programme will be held virtually for the first time due to Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Spar: A.F Blakemore is rolling out the online shopping app, Snappy Shopper, across 250 Spar stores it owns across England and Wales. The initiative enables vulnerable customers to order the delivery of essential items to their home. This follows a successful three-week trial of the app in four stores in Wrexham.

Prezzo: Prezzo is offering income streaming to all of its 3,000 staff to help them access their furlough pay early during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. With all its restaurants closed during the pandemic, the Italian chain is opening up the service to its entire workforce, with staff facing additional financial pressures at this time.

Economy: Online fashion sales have grown by 21% year-on-year in April, recovering from a 30% drop in March as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This is according to a Nosto study, which also showed year-on-year website visits have grown by 9% and orders by 30% in April.

Friday 24 April 2020

Home Bargains: The discount retailer has launched an essentials food box to help ensure people who are vulnerable or self-isolating are able to access essential supplies during the Covid-19 lockdown. The box is available for £23.99 and includes products such as canned goods, rice and loo roll.

Naked Wines: The online wine retailer is making up to $5 million available to independent winemakers looking to sell their wines via Naked Wines’ US, UK, and Australia operations. The move aims to help winemakers affected by the closure of restaurants, tasting rooms and traditional retail stores during the Covid-19 crisis.

Economy: Official ONS figures have shown that online sales in the UK as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 22.3% in March. Overall, however, there was 5.1% plunge in retail sales volume for March, the largest fall since ONS records began.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Legislation: During the daily press briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that essential workers are eligible for a Covid-19 test as part of a new test, track and trace programme being rolled out by the UK government. Employers can book tests for key workers, and these workers will also be able to book themselves and their families in for tests online. These essential workers include frontline supermarket workers. Yesterday, Tesco said it is aiming to roll out at voluntary testing service for its staff in the coming weeks.

Morrisons: Morrisons has introduced a 5% discount for its 2,700 farmers when they buy their own groceries to thank them for their efforts in feeding the nation during Covid-19. Additionally, the grocer has announced it is opening steak and seafood bars to support struggling farmers and fishermen next week. This initiative aims to provide customers with a wider range of fresh meat and fish.

DFS: The furniture retailer has completed a share placing to help ensure it has sufficient cash to navigate the Covid-19 crisis. This has involved 42,309,457 shares being placed at a price of 150 pence per Placing Share.

Sainsbury’s: The supermarket will be installing new safety screens between checkouts in a bid to speed up shopping time for customers during the Covid-19 pandemic. This will enable stores to reopen checkouts that have been kept closed whilst allowing shoppers to maintain the appropriate distance from each other.

Ebay: It has been announced that the online trading platform will work with the government to supply NHS workers with PPE. It is working with NHS supply chain, the Department of Health & Social Care and the Army to develop a new online portal to allow primary and social care providers to order PPE directly from the NHS.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Boots: The health and beauty retailer has rapidly expanded its capacity to deliver prescription medicines to vulnerable people who are unable to go to their local pharmacy during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has recruited more than 500 delivery drivers and introduced prescription delivery in another 40 of its stores throughout the UK.

Tesco: In an update on its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tesco is providing its staff with free access to the digital wellness tools Headspace and SilverCloud for the next 12 months. It also confirmed it will begin trialling Covid-19 testing on frontline staff this week.

Google: The search engine has announced it is allowing online retailers to list their products for free on its Google Shopping service in a bid to allow struggling businesses to reconnect with consumers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Argos: In a letter to customers, Mike Coupe, chief executive of Argos, announced changes to its home delivery service to make it contactless, keeping consumers and staff safe. Items will now be delivered to customer’s doorsteps rather than in person. Additionally, installation and recycling services have been temporarily suspended to reduce the risk of infection.

Morrisons: The supermarket is launching a food box catered for Muslim customers observing the month of Ramadan, which is taking place during the Covid-19 lockdown. The ‘Ramadan Essentials Box’ will be delivered direct to customers’ doorsteps.

Meal box company Gousto has launched a Food Finder app to connect shoppers with small local businesses which are offering food deliveries during lockdown. CEO, Timo Boldt, describes to Essential Retail why he thinks his business is prepared for a potential economic recession.

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Joules: The country fashion retailer’s eCommerce performance has exceeded expectations since the Covid-19 lockdown was introduced in the UK. In an operational update, Joules said online traffic and demand has been running ahead of its revised expectations in the wake of the lockdown, whilst also observing strong levels of customer engagement via its social media channels and on its digital marketplace.

Liverpool ONE: The shopping centre Liverpool ONE has launched a virtual enlivenment programme to help entertain the local community during the Covid-19 lockdown. It is repurposing the events it normally holds throughout the year so they can be enjoyed online in a bid to improve people’s wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis.

Primark: The clothing retailer has outlined the huge financial impact the Covid-19 epidemic is having on its business, with sales falling to zero following the closure of its stores. Additionally, it has paid for the large amounts of completed stock which cannot be sold. The group also confirmed that 68,000 staff across Europe have been furloughed.

Naked Wines and Majestic Wines: The two UK wine retailers are running wine tasting sessions via online video platforms to engage with consumers during the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis. The moves have been made to enable customers with the opportunity to experience tasting counters despite the closure of the physical stores.

John Lewis: The retailer has revealed an 84% growth in online sales year-on-year from mid-March, since the Covid-19 crisis developed, according to its annual report. However, overall there has been an overall drop in sales of 17% since mid-March due to the closure of its physical stores. Meanwhile, Waitrose has experienced an 8% rise in online sales since 26 January.

Monday 20 April 2020

Legislation: During today's daily briefing, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that over 140,000 firms have applied for job retention scheme today, who will receive cash in order to carry on paying their staff during the Covid-19 lockdown.

He also announced £1.25 billion worth of packages to support start ups and SME companies at this time. This includes a £500 million investment fund for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, comprised of funding by both the government and the private sector. In addition, SMEs focusing on research and development will be eligible for £750 million worth of grants and loans. The Chancellor stated his belief that innovation will be the key to the UK’s economic recovery.

DFS: The furniture retailer has reported a 20.2% increase in online sales since lockdown measures were introduced in the UK. In a statement, the group also said it expects sofa deliveries to resume shortly, once a safe and workable approach for two-person installations into customer homes is found.

Ted Baker: The luxury clothing retailers has developed its first ever digital pop-up shop, which will be officially launched on 1 May. This will offer customers an ongoing collection of limited-edition pieces, with 100% of profits going to charitable causes in local communities. The online electrical store is launching free delivery and free timeslots for frontline NHS workers, to ensure they can get their deliveries in a safe and hassle-free way. Additionally, is offering a 10% discount on personal purchases for NHS keyworkers.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Arcadia: Phillip Green's Arcadia Group has given notice to landlords on 100 of its 550 sites. The owner of brands including Topshop and Miss Selfridge has been trying to reduce its retail estate in recent years, but according to the BBC, Covid-19 is accelerating this process as retailers suffer from temporary high-street closures in lines with lockdown restrictions.

As UK lockdown continues into its fourth week, retailers are looking to turn their closed stores into mini warehouses – a ‘dark store’ method traditionally used in the grocery sector. Read how Levi’s, Blackwell’s and Majestic Wine are adapting their businesses during this time of crisis.

Friday 17 April 2020

Economy: Medium-to-large businesses will now be eligible for the UK government-backed loans, it has been announced. This extension means that large retailers with a turnover of over £45 million will be able to apply for support from the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which starts on Monday. Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 80% of any bank loan given.

Asda: The grocery retailer has extended the roll out of its mobile Scan & Go app to all of its 581 stores to improve customer and colleague safety during the coronavirus pandemic. This allows customers to scan and pack their groceries as they shop and pay on their own mobile device, reducing levels of social interaction.

Amazon: The tech giant’s proposed investment into Deliveroo has been provisionally cleared by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), despite fears the move could discourage competition. This comes as Deliveroo confirmed its business has been struggling since the enforced closure of the restaurant industry as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. It provided financial evidence that without Amazon’s investment, it would go bust.

Economy: New figures from Barclaycard have revealed that consumers are increasingly choosing to buy goods from independent local businesses during the Covid-19 lockdown, supporting their local economy.

Economy: There has been a huge growth in demand for roles in logistics and IT in March according to new data. This highlights the importance of ensuring supplies are delivered during the Covid-19 crisis, especially to vulnerable and hospitals.

Aldi: For the first time, Aldi is selling groceries online, offering £24.99 food boxes for people who are self-isolating at home or who are too vulnerable to make it to a store during the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis.

Waitrose: The grocer has more than trebled the capacity of its rapid delivery service. It now believes it is able to provide more than 2.5 million households with the option to use the service to get the food and essentials they need during lockdown.

Fulfilment: In a new partnership, up to 16,000 independent retailers who use PayPoint’s in-store payment technology can now be fast-tracked to have their store feature on Deliveroo’s food delivery platform. The move provides extra capacity to help meet the growing demand of home deliveries during Covid-19.

Boots: Boots UK is trialling a new GP and pharmacy online video consultation service, enabling customers to get general health advice, and to have a face-to-face conversations about their own prescription medications with pharmacists. It provides people who are self-isolating with access to medical advice without the need to travel.

Legislation: The UK’s furlough scheme, in which the government subsidies the wages of employees in businesses struggling due to the coronavirus, has been extended for another month until the end of June. The move comes in a bid to ensure people are able to keep their jobs, including in the retail sector, which in many areas has been hit particularly hard by the crisis.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Legislation: UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has announced a three-week extension to the lockdown measures first put in place on 23 March. This means non-essential high street retail stores will remain closed for at least another three weeks.

Economy: The BRC has recorded the worst retail sales since launching its monitor in 1995. On a total basis, sales decreased by 4.3% in March, compared to a drop of 1.8% in March 2019.

Dunelm: Dunelm has announced its online business is fully operational again after initially closing in the wake of the UK government’s recent lockdown measures. It has also seen a significant increase in online orders compared to before the Covid-19 crisis.

Zalando: The online fashion retailer has reported an increase of more than 100% in items sold on its eCommerce platform over the Easter weekend. This follows moves to make it easier for other fashion brands to sell on its site during Covid-19.

Fenwick: The department store has reopened its eCommerce channel following changes to the way orders are picked and packed in line with government guidelines. However, it said new orders are likely to take longer than usual to be delivered.

Essential Retail speaks to futurologist Howard Sauders to ask how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the future of retail. Read our interview here. 

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Oasis Warehouse: The fashion retailer has fallen into administration, appointing Deloitte to manage the business through the process. The two high-street fashion retailers were put up for sale back in March, but talks to secure a deal have fallen through due to the escalating coronavirus crisis. CEO Hash Ladha said: "This is a situation that none of us could have predicted a month ago, and comes as shocking and difficult news for all of us."

Deliveroo: The food delivery service is allowing tens of thousands of NHS workers to order a free meal to their homes via its platform after raising over £1.5 million in customer donations and corporate funding. This is in addition to Deliveroo’s recent pledge to make 500,000 meals available to NHS workers in hospitals across the UK for free.

Fashion: IMRG has reported that online sales in the clothing sector have tumbled 23% in March, caused by the UK going into lockdown.

Quiz: The online fashion retailer has reopened its website and warehouse after ensuring staff safety. Quiz's website is now fully operational after a temporary closure at the end of March.

Essential Retail outlines how online retailers need to change their approaches to meet changing consumer demands during Covid-19. Read the feature on how e-tailers can shake up their business models to adapt to the new normal.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Economy: During the daily briefing, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged there will be a long-term economic fallout from Covid-19 on people and businesses. However, he also stated that he expects the economy to quickly recover and grow again once the crisis has ended, with the government taking steps to help businesses start moving again as the lockdown restrictions are lifted. This follows figures from the OBR showing that the UK's GDP could potentially reduce by 35% by June.

Morrisons: The supermarket chain has today announced a new telephone service for elderly, vulnerable, and self-isolating customers. These customers can choose from a ‘takeaway’ menu of 47 essential groceries and then call in their order to their local store. The items will then be delivered the very next day.

Oasis and Warehouse: Oasis and Warehouse are on the brink of collapse as the group looks to appoint administrators, according to Sky News. The two high-street fashion retailers were put up for sale back in March, but talks to secure a deal have fallen through due to the escalating coronavirus crisis.

John Lewis: From today, the retailer is offering new virtual services to customers, including one-to-one video consultations with experts. It is part of John Lewis’ efforts to continue serving customers during lockdown.

Economy: There has been a 12% growth in online sales of nail care products during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the NPD Group. The rise could be a result of the ‘Lipstick Effect’, a theory which suggests that customers will treat themselves to smaller luxuries such as expensive lipsticks despite cutting back on big purchases during difficult economic periods.

Economy: The Direct Selling Association has reported a surge in sales for some of its members during recent weeks, which has been partly driven by the hosting of virtual Tupperware-style parties. This is an example of how direct-to-consumer businesses have adapted their model to the current Covid-19 crisis.

Amazon: Amazon has announced it will hire an extra 75,000 staff in the US to deal with the increased demand for its services. The online retailer has already fulfilled the additional 100,000 roles it advertised for since Covid-19 developed.

Next: The online clothing and homeware retailer has reopened its online shopping facility, having temporarily halted it at the end of March. Following changes to its health and safety policies in its warehouse to enable social distancing to be observed by staff, it has begun taking a limited amount of orders per day.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Young Foodies: A new eCommerce site enabling SME food retailers to sell online is being launched by Young Foodies. Available to customers from 15 April, the site, named Mighty Small, allows start-ups and small businesses to offer customers an online delivery service for their products, helping them navigate the crisis.

Duke + Dexter: The British footwear brand has halted production of its shoes at its Sheffield factory, switching production to facemask to help frontline NHS staff fight Covid-19. Duke + Dexter is now producing 5,000 facemasks per week, which is it distributing free of charge to the NHS as well as emergency workers, care homes and hospices which require protection during this difficult time. 

Morrisons: The grocer has increased its food box capacity for vulnerable and self-isolating people from 10,000 to 100,000.

Co-op: The Co-op has pulled its planned Easter advertising campaign, instead giving the airtime to the food charity, FareShare. The advertising time will instead focus upon promoting local heroes and encouraging people to support food banks.

Spar: Spar and Eurospar convenience stores in Northern Ireland have introduced a ‘Scan, Pay, Go’ mobile app to enable consumers to check items are in stock before they leave their homes and then self-serve in the shop. It is part of initiatives by stores staying open during the coronavirus to limit human-to-human contact as much as possible.

John Lewis: The retailer has designed and is installing a wellbeing area at the NHS Nightingale Hospital London to ensure medical staff and volunteers have a place of sanctuary during their work. In addition, from today, the Partnership has partnered with the British Medical Association (BMA) to distribute care packages for frontline NHS workers at the busiest hospitals across the UK.

TOMS: TOMS has announced that as of 1 April, it will be donating one-third of net profits to the COVID-19 Global Giving Fund to help efforts to tackle Covid-19. The fund supports long-time Giving Partners currently on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Emma: Online mattress retailer Emma has announced a 50% discount for key workers including teachers, carers and NHS and private healthcare workers.

YNAP: Yoox-Net-a-Porter has announced it is extending the donation of its delivery fleet to aid volunteers to Italy and Hong Kong. It is also expanding its commitment to help local charities fight the impact of coronavirus in London. YNAP vehicles in London are being deployed to provide logistical assistance to a design group which is encouraging its members to produce stocks of key PPE garments such as robes, scrubs and masks. YNAP is helping to transport raw materials and finished products to hospitals for use on the frontline.

Co-op: The grocer has adapted its Co-operate communities website using modern digital design techniques amid the Covid-19 crisis. The platform’s priority is now to find a way of allowing people across the UK to ‘get or offer support’ in their community. As a result, it has reshaped the service to try and centralise UK events and activities on one platform, as well as provide vulnerable people with useful information in this health emergency

Economy: A Kantar survey has found that Covid-19 will speed up the shift to eCommerce once the crisis has ended. According to the study, six out of 10 consumers will continue to purchase the same amount of goods online once the pandemic is over as they do now.

Spar: The convenience retailer will partner with the Royal Voluntary Service on its NHS Volunteer Responders programme. This will enable volunteers to shop for the vulnerable person they are supporting across the 700 Spar stores in England.

Tesco: Tesco has reported a 30% increase in UK sales as a result of panic buying in recent weeks during Covid-19. The retailer also urged consumers to do most of their shopping in store as it is currently directing its home shopping efforts towards serving the most vulnerable in society.

Morrisons: Morrisons has partnered with Deliveroo to help speed up delivery of essential household items. The move is designed to help customers who are unable to order speedy delivery due to high demand. All the deliveries will be contactless, with Deliveroo riders leaving the goods at customers’ doors to collect.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Advertising: The outdoor digital advertising company, Ocean Outdoor, has offered SME businesses and retailers access to advertising space across its digital screens in 12 major UK cities. The initiative provides an opportunity for retailers to market themselves free of charge during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Clarks: The shoe retailer has rebuffed claims that coronavirus is the reason by its decision to close a small number of UK stores.

Economy: New data from ACI Worldwide has shown a huge increase in online retail sales for March, with a 74% growth in average transaction volumes compared with the same period last year. This growth has been driven by items linked to people staying indoors. Meanwhile, the statistics also revealed a growth in online fraudulent activity in the same period.

WHSmith: The retailer has raised £165.9 million through its investors to help ensure the business can survive during the Covid-19 crisis. This move follows WHSmith stating that it expects its revenue this month to reduce by 90% year-on-year following the closure of its high street stores.

Tesco: The supermarket retailer has begun work on a pop-up store for NHS workers at the Nightingale Hosptial at the NEC in Birmingham. 

Essential Retail looks at positive innovations retailers have launched in response to the crisis. Read our feature on how retail is pivoting in response to coronavirus here

Monday 6 April 2020

McColl's: The convenience retailer has partnered with Deliveroo to offer home delivery within 30 minutes from 120 of its stores. McColl's intends to expand this partnership to include 300 stores in the near future. 

Asda: The supermarket chain has increased its weekly home shopping slots by 300,000 in the last fortnight, according to an email sent by CEO Roger Burnley to customers. This means Asda’s capacity is now up to 700,000 slots per week. Burnley added that those most in need will continue to be prioritised.

Ocado: The e-grocer has issued an apology to its customers for being unable to meet current levels of demand for its online delivery service. Ocado said its web traffic has been up to 100 times higher than usual levels, and enquiries into its contact centre are up by 500%. It also acknowledged that its communication of its actions during the crisis so far has not been good enough.

Debenhams: Debenhams has filed notice of intent to appoint an administrator in the UK in response to the impact of the coronavirus on its business. The move is designed to protect from creditors in the short term and ensure the company is able to trade its stores again after the current period of lockdown in the UK is lifted.

Master of Malt: The eCommerce drinks platform has reported a 200% growth in UK online alcohol orders in the week following the government’s recent lockdown measures. It has also seen changing consumer behaviour as a result of the lockdown, including a substantial increase in the volume of beer purchased.

Friday 3 April 2020

Schuh: The footwear retailer has re-opened its website a week after it closed down its warehouse due to concerns over staff welfare during the Covid-19 epidemic. The Schuh management team has now put in place extensive welfare measures to ensure the safety of its employees working in its eCommerce operations.

Asda and M&S: Both retailers have introduced volunteer shopping cards to enable vulnerable and self-isolating consumers to have their shopping collected by a volunteer in a completely contactless way. The card can be bought on online, loaded with money, and then sent via email or printed off to be collected by the volunteer, removing the need for cash or card details to be exchanged.

Joules: The lifestyle retailer has raised £15 million from investors to ensure it has enough liquidity to make it through the coronavirus crisis. The retailer said it has seen a significant decline in revenue since the lockdown measures were introduced in the UK last Monday.

Legislation: UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the government’s Covid Business Interruption Loan to all SME businesses that have faced financial difficulties due to the epidemic. The loans were originally limited to companies unable to secure regular commercial financing because of the current economic climate.

Primark: Primark’s executives will have their basic pay reduced by 50% to help mitigate the financial costs of all its stores closing in the UK as a result of Covid-19. The retailer confirmed that it expects full year earnings to now be much lower than envisaged at the start of the financial year.

Economy: UK high street retailers had their worst sales month on record in March, with the UK’s recent lockdown measures having a devastating impact on physical stores. The BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker for March revealed a slump of -17.9% in like-for-like (LFL) sales, with total in-store LFLs plummeting by -34.1%.

Sainsbury’s: Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has informed customers that the supermarket will have circa 600,000 delivery and click & collect spots available by the end of next week to help cope with the growing demand for online shopping. This represents substantial increase on the 370,000 online and click & collect slots a week Sainsbury’s were able to offer just two weeks ago. 

Thursday 2 April 2020

Morrison’s: The supermarket chain has started a food box service to enable NHS workers easy access to groceries. Located in hospital car parks, the initiative has started at St James's Hospital and Leeds General Infirmary on Thursday 2 April. Boxes are priced at £30 each and there are options available for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

Sainsbury’s: The grocery retailer is beginning to fulfil online orders from closed convenience stores using its fleet of bicycle delivery riders. Firstly available 3km from its Blackfriars store, Sainsbury’s plans to roll out the service across the UK to aid the unprecedented demand for online deliveries.

Frasers Group: The owner of Frasers Group, Mike Ashley, has announced that its executive team have each taken a voluntary pay cut from May in order to help see the company through the current crisis. Their basic pay will be reduced to £40,000 pa. Meanwhile, Ashley has pledged to pay all his staff their full salaries until the end of April.

The Hut Group: The beauty and wellness retail group has pledged £10 million in aid to help vulnerable communities, key workers and emergency services in Manchester, the UK and its international markets during the Covid-19 crisis. This includes £4 million of critical products and services to be distributed to key sites in Manchester, including NHS and frontline staff.

Pets At Home: The pet care retailer looks set to exceed profit expectations for the year ending March 2020 due to the huge increase in demand for its services in the last few weeks as the Covid-19 crisis has developed. It has also announced a series of measures to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers in its stores.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Legislation: UK business secretary Alok Sharma announced in the daily briefing that from today, local authorities have received £12 billion in grants to help small businesses survive throughout the coronavirus crisis. He also confirmed that businesses will start benefiting from £22 billion in the form of business rates relief.

Additionally, Sharma sent a clear message to banks that they must support businesses through government back loans, adding that it would be unacceptable for banks to refuse funds to businesses struggling at this time. He stated: “the taxpayer stepped in to help banks in 2008, we will work with banks to repay the favour”.

Sainsbury’s: Argos has been exploiting a loophole to keep its business open in Sainsbury stores, it has been claimed. Whilst the retailer has had to close its stores as part of the UK government’s recent Covid-19 lockdown measures, it has been able to retain outlets in the supermarket chain, which has been allowed to stay open. In response, Sainsbury’s stated that people can only buy items at the in-store Argos outlets if they have already paid for them online.

Asos: The online fashion retailer has denied claims from the GMB union that they are not enforcing social distancing measures during the coronavirus outbreak in its Barnsley warehouse, thereby putting employees lives at risk. In a statement, ASOS said: "Since the lockdown, we have introduced a range of additional health and safety measures and the Environmental Health Officer, who visited the site on Friday, confirmed he was happy with the protocols we have in place."

Economy: Nearly a fifth of SMEs in the UK will not have the cash to survive over the next four weeks, research from The Corporate Finance Network has shown. The findings demonstrate that a large number of SME retailers have an urgent need for cash in order to survive over this period.

TescoThe supermarket chain has significantly grown its home delivery and click & collect capacity to help cope with the huge surge in online shopping over recent weeks. CEO Dave Lewis said Tesco has increased its capacity to around 780,000 delivery slots this week, up from 660,000 two weeks ago, with a further 100,000 slots set to become available in the coming weeks.

Ikea: The furniture retailer has announced it will be reopening its store in Croydon, London, in order to allow its Swedish food market to be accessed by vulnerable people and key workers. The rest of the Ikea store will remain closed and other members of the public will not be allowed to enter.

Could coronavirus change consumer behaviour forever? Essential Retail investigates whether the Covid-19 experience will change the way people shop in the long term.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Grocery: Aldi, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda have all lifted rules on some of the products where customers have been restricted in the amount of individual items they can purchase in the wake of Covid-19. However, limits remain in place for products such as hand wash, toilet roll, and certain canned foods.

Halfords: The automotive and cycling retailer has introduced changes to its store format in a bid to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. Customers are now served from a temporary desk at the entrance to stores, with floor markings used to help maintain personal space for those in queues. Staff will fetch products for customers and bring them to the front of the store for contactless payment – cash is not being accepted.

Zalando: The online fashion retailer's management board has penned a letter outlining Zalando's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including measures to help brick and mortar stores continue trading during the crisis.

Economy: The Horticultural Trades Association is lobbying government for help, after reporting that if garden centres remain closed then the value of lost plants sales will reach £687 million by the end of June, and £1.2 billion by the end of December.

Poundland: The value retailer is temporarily reducing its store count by 32 during the coronavirus crisis. These stores include those situated in retail parks and shopping centres and those with multiple stores in one area. It also includes stores which are unable to open due to a lack of staff. Poundland staff will be paid 80% of their wages in lines with the government retention payment scheme.

Economy: A 20.6% jump over the last four weeks saw March break the monthly record for grocery sales. Stats from Kantar state the growth has been driven by people “shopping more frequently and buying slightly more”, with the average household spending an extra £62.92 over the last month. Almost 90% of UK households visited a supermarket between Monday 16 and Thursday 19 March, equalling 42 million additional trips. Meanwhile, data from Nielsen reveals British consumers made over 79 million extra grocery shopping trips in the last four weeks, which added up to an extra £1.9 billion spent on groceries.

Meanwhile, online fashion sales fell 30% in March, as customers tighten their spending habits in amidst the Covid-19 crisis. But consumers are still browsing for clothing items, which offers opportunities for retailers if they adopt a strategy that matches people’s current needs.

Monday 30 March 2020

Lush: The natural beauty retailer has ceased online trading in a bid to tackle the spread of Covid-19. Lush's website states it is no longer taking new orders.

Halfords: The car, bike and accessories retailer has announced it will check every NHS and emergency worker’s car and bikes for free during the coronavirus pandemic. NHS and emergency workers can claim a ten-point car check or a bike service at most Halfords stores or Autocentres from today.

Economy: A new survey by McKinsey on consumer attitudes shows that people are planning to reduce their purchasing in all areas apart from groceries and in-home entertainment due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 virus. One-third of those surveyed expect a reduction in their incomes.

Supply chain: 10% of UK consumers are set to try foodservice delivery for the first time due to the escalating Covid-19 crisis. Additionally, 8% of existing foodservice delivery customers will increase their usage as a result of the current health emergency.

Start-ups: More than half of London's technology companies will prioritise ‘survival’ in next three months, according to new research which hints at difficulties for long-term sector growth as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis. Some 32% of respondents said they expect ‘stagnation’ over the next quarter, while 49% of tech professionals in the capital anticipate that the escalating Covid-19 health emergency will threaten the very viability of their business or employer

Mothercare: Mothercare has provided an update on its transformation plan in light of the coronavirus epidemic. Whilst acknowledging that Covid-19 will impact on its short-term revenue, the retailer stated that it continues to make “significant progress” in its aim to become a profitable international franchise operation with an asset light model.

Morrisons: The supermarket has confirmed it will distribute £10 million worth of food to food banks across the country during the coronavirus outbreak to help make up for a reduction in donations since the crisis began. To do so, the retailer will be increasing production of fresh food at its own manufacturing sites.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Boots: The healthcare retailer has announced it will be rolling out Covid-19 testing facilities for NHS workers across the UK in order to support the government’s efforts to combat coronavirus. The pharmacy confirmed the tests will not take place in stores but in various locations across the country.

Legislation: Business secretary Alok Sharma briefs the nation on a number of new measures to be introduced including:

  • Intentions to change details of the insolvency system to help struggling UK businesses. New legislation will be soon introduced to give UK companies extra time and space to "weather the storm”.
  • A temporary suspension of wrongful trading rules, preventing company directors for being liable for keeping struggling businesses trading during the crisis. This will be backdated to 1 March.
  • AGMs can be flexible by postponing, holding online or over the phone.
  • Allowing workers to carry over annual leave into the next two years if they haven’t been able to take their statutory allowance due to Covid-19.

Friday 27 March 2020

Supply chain: Royal Mail has said its parcel business has experienced strong demand over the last two weeks, supported by an increase in online shopping. Royal Mail said its tracked parcels and other standard products have performed well in the last two weeks, although noted its 'Tracked Returns' product has been used less frequently. It said volumes were lower than expected due to weaker volumes of returns from the clothing sector at these unusual times.

Sports Direct: The head of Frasers Group, Mike Ashley, has penned an open letter in which he apologises for his poor communication to the government, his employees, and the public, after saying that Sports Direct stores would remain despite the UK government ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses on Monday 23 March. Ashley has also made Frasers Group’s entire fleet of lorries available to the NHS to deliver medical equipment and supplies.

What does a marketing team at a non-essential retail organisation look like in the time of a coronavirus lockdown? Read Essential Retail’s interview with French fashion and furniture multichannel retailer, La Redoute, to find out. 

Thursday 26 March 2020

TK Maxx: The clothing and homeware retailer has decided to stop taking online orders from today. Returns have been extended to 30 days from when stores and its website re-opens. TK Maxx said customers should not post back any returns as “we’re so sorry, we won’t be there”. Customers must hold onto their proof of postage if they have recently sent orders back to the retailer.

River Island: Yet another retailer closes its distribution centre. But rather than completely cutting off its eCommerce site, the retailer said it is still taking orders, saying “we just can’t promise when we will get them to you. It could take weeks, although we hope not”.

Next: The clothing retailer has closed its online, warehouse and distribution operations in a bid to protect staff from coronavirus. Next said it will not be taking any more online orders after 26 March until further notice.

Economy: GlobalData predicts UK fashion sales are down by £11.1 billion compared to last year. Economies are suffering worldwide because of the backed-up supply chain and the lack of interest in buying fashion during UK lockdown.

Waitrose: As part of a new five-point safety plan, the retailer will be offering special visors to all its partners to help keep them safe while working during the Covid-19 pandemic. Other measures include a limit on the number of people allowed in stores at any one time and new signage to help ensure customers stay two metres apart.

Dixons Carphone: The electricals retailer has reported a 35% increase in sales of its electrical items as consumers rush to buy technology equipment to allow them work and socialise from home.

Several retailers have now closed their online operations in light of coronavirus but how can others run a safe eCommerce business in this environment? Essential Retail investigates. 

Schuh: The footwear retailer has decided to close its online operations days after closing stores, due to conflicting advice from the UK and Scottish governments. In order to protect the health of its staff and customers, Schuh’s website will close from today until it receives a clear update from government telling it otherwise.

Legislation: GMB trade union is calling on non-essential retailers to close their warehouses to protect the health of their employees. GMB pointed at Asos, Matalan and Net-a-Porter, saying the retailers are not following social distancing guidelines at their fulfilment centres.

Ebay: The UK arm of the global marketplace has announced a 30-day payment holiday for all 300,000 businesses currently registered on its site, whilst new businesses joining will not be required to pay any fees to list or sell until 31 May 2020. The pledge aims to provide a much-needed cash boost to small businesses who are facing financial difficulties due to restrictions on commercial activities caused by Covid-19.

Legislation: The UK government has allowed supermarkets access to a database so they can prioritise food deliveries for elderly and vulnerable customers who have been told to stay at home for the next 12 weeks. The move aims to ensure food and essential supplies continue to reach these people, with online delivery slots of major grocers currently booked up weeks in advance.

Chinese mega-retailer shares its observations on the “new normal” of shopping since the Covid-19 outbreak at the beginning of 2020. Click here to read more.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Boots: The health and beauty retailer is the latest company to implement a virtual queuing system on its website due to high volumes of online shoppers. 

Tesco: The grocer has written to customers to inform them of a number of in-store measures being put in place to protect the health of staff and shoppers, these include plastic protective screens, floor markings to help people keep their distance while queuing and hand sanitiser placed throughout stores. Tesco is also encouraging those customers who can do so to shop in store to reduce the burden on its website and free up delivery slots for the vulnerable. 

Tesco also announced that its 3,000 vulnerable colleagues (including those who are pregnant or over 70) will be given full paid leave for 12 weeks. Those in isolation will also receive full pay and the retailer is recruiting an additional 20,000 temporary staff members to help support its effort to feed the nation.

Moss Bros: The suit retailer has suspended all online shopping. The retailer said: "The health and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues is our number one priority. With that in mind we have taken the difficult decision to stop taking orders until further notice."

Fenwick: Department store Fenwick has announced the temporary closure of its online business due to a lack of back-end systems to support picking orders from its warehouse. The retailer closed its physical stores last week, but has been struggling to keep its online business operating during the Covid-19 crisis.

White Stuff: Fashion retailer White Stuff has adopted a new shift system in its Leicester warehouse to help its employees follow social distancing best practice during the current health emergency.

Halfords: The retailer provided an update today saying trading in the last two weeks has been very strong. Halfords said: “Whilst we are confident that the post-pandemic future of the business remains strong, trading in the near term is likely to be severely impacted.”

The retailer is deemed an essential retailer by the government due to its motoring and cycling services. Autocentres garages and its mobile vans remain open, and it will look to roll out partial store coverage later this week, while also taking orders online on both and, offering either a home delivery service or click & collect once branches have reopened.

Halfords CEO, Graham Stapleton, said: “While significant uncertainty exists on the impact of Covid-19, we are taking immediate and significant measures to contain our costs and protect our financial position. We have a strong balance sheet, with significant liquidity headroom and low levels of financial debt.”

Economy: The Gift Card & Voucher Association (GCVA) has revealed a shift in consumer spending as gift cards see significant rise. The body expects the purchase of gift cards to rise sharply in the coming months as a quarantined nation looks to show loved ones they care from isolation. As well as Father’s Day and Easter, over the next four months there will be 22.3 million UK birthdays and 220,000 expected babies.

Supply chain: Logistics provider Clipper has said it is receiving an increase in requests from its grocery clients to ramp up supply chain support as a result of the demands placed upon them by Covid-19. It has also received a number of requests from other retail sectors to help them cope with the increase in consumer demand.

Sainsbury’s: The supermarket is committing to pay small suppliers immediately to help mediate uncertainty during these unprecedented times. Nearly 1,500 small businesses with less than £100,000 annual turnover with Sainsbury’s will benefit. The retailer is also offering tenants the opportunity to pay rent monthly, rather than quarterly.

Paul Mills-Hicks, commercial director at Sainsbury’s, said: “We want to support our suppliers and partners because it is vital that we all help each other during this challenging time. The businesses we work with are working flat out to supply us with product and going above and beyond to deliver direct to our stores. I am so proud to be working alongside them to feed the nation and we will do all we can to help.”

Economy: Grocery sales in the UK for the week to 14 March increased by over 22% compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from Nielsen. Household and pet care items saw the biggest rise (65%), while ambient grocery experienced 62% increase. Health, beauty and toiletries were up 46%.

According to the data company, consumers spent an additional £467 million over the course of the week versus the same seven days in 2019.

DFS: As well as shuttering stores, DFS has decided to also close its manufacturing facilities and suspend all current customer orders to protect its staff from the coronavirus outbreak. The retailer said its website will continue to take online orders. By using the UK Government's Coronavirus job retention scheme, DFS said it intends to maintain employment for our colleagues for as long as possible. 

Tim Stacey, group chief executive, of DFS said: "DFS has traded for over 50 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods including the 2008 financial crisis.  On every occasion, thanks to our customers and colleagues, and the long-standing relationships with our suppliers and other stakeholders, we have emerged stronger.

Virgin Wines: The online wine retailer has had to temporarily close its website to allow its warehouse to "catch up" with the high volume of orders placed in recent days. Earlier this week customers were informed deliveries might take a little longer than usual, but the company has since stopped accepting any new orders. Naked Wines has also been struggling to fulfill orders, last week it had to pause taking any new orders and as of today it has a "limited number of cases for delivery this week", but hopes to return to business as usual very soon. Nielsen data suggests sales of beer, wine and spirits rose 11% year-on-year in the second week of March.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Poundland: Poundland’s managing director, Barry Williams, has spoken of his pride in the retailer’s staff for continuing to allow communities to access affordable, essential supplies during Covid-19. He also confirmed the company had developed a package of measures, such as extra holiday, to reward its staff for their efforts during this difficult period.

New Look: The fashion retailer’s CEO Nigel Oddy is confident New Look will weather the storm despite closing all of its stores as per instruction from the government. In an update, the retailer detailed measures including requesting rent holidays, pausing production, reducing marketing costs and halting all recruitment.

Oddy said: “We are confident that a combination of these ongoing actions, the significant financial and operational progress we have made over the past two years with our turnaround plan, and the strength of our brand mean that we will be well positioned to return to growth when a more normalised operating environment resumes.”

Waitrose: From today, Waitrose has introduced a limit on the number of customers allowed in its stores at one time in an effort to ensure social distancing can be maintained whilst people shop. Additionally, the retailer will be introducing dedicated marshals for each outlet to manage queues outside.

Economy: A retail shopping habits survey carried out by Kantar has shown that only a minority of UK customers are actually stockpiling. Instead, the extra demand on supermarkets is primarily being driven by people making additional visits to stores and purchasing a few extra items each time.

Economy: UK retailers experienced a drop in footfall of around 60% in the second week of March, following warnings about the coronavirus outbreak – with worse set to follow, according to new figures from analyst CACI. While 86% of consumers are making changes to their shopping habits, older consumers are less likely to have changed their behaviour than younger shoppers, with those aged 25-34 the most likely to be following official advice.

Legislation: BIRA has called for small independent retailers to be given immediate access to financial support following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s enforced closure of all non-essential retailers on Monday evening. The organisation also stated they will help their members adjust to an online trading model.

McColl’s: The convenience retailer has provided a business update in wake of the latest government restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak. All of the group’s stores remain open and able to serve customers, with policies put in place to ensure trading takes place safely. McColl's also announced steps taken to protect its business during this uncertain time, including amendment of its bank facilities.

Allbirds: The sustainable footwear brand is thanking the UK's hardworking health service by donating a pair of its Tuke Matcha Wool Runners to NHS staff, while stocks last.

Sports Direct: Late last night Frasers Group – which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycle – sent a letter to staff insisting it would keep stores open. “We are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis,” wrote CFO Chris Wootton.

While Evans Cycles can technically remain open as bicycle shops are considered essential, the grey area surrounds Sports Direct. But after backlash from politicians, the retailer has backtracked and now said it will not open stores until told it can do so by the government.

Morrisons: The supermarket retailer has launched food delivery boxes. Priced at £35 each, they include items including toilet roll, bread, pasta, bacon, milk and cheese. The boxes are insulated so can be left on a customer's doorstep. Before 8.30am all delivery slots had sold out and the website told shoppers to "check again tomorrow for further availability". 

Economy: The contactless limit has been raised from £30 to £45 in order to help prevent the spread of coronavirus via the exchange of cash or entering a PIN at a card terminal device. 

Working from home in the retail sector? Read our feature on tips to adjust to new ways of working using technology to communicate with your team and manage projects efficiently

Monday 23 March 2020

Legislation: Non-essential stores are facing enforced closure as the UK goes into lockdown. Prime minister Boris Johnson addressed citizens this evening saying all high street stores – except grocery, pharmacy and funeral homes – will close by midnight.

Click here to download the government guidance on which premises should close. 

Boots: The health and beauty retailer has announced it will be temporarily closing all beauty and fragrance counters as it attempts to help stem the transition of coronavirus. Colleagues who work on the counters will not be required to go to work at their designated Boots store, but can choose to switch roles to assist with Boots’ in-store healthcare efforts.

Paperchase: The stationary retailer is the latest to close its stores to "protect the health and wellbeing of our teams and our customers, and play our part in limiting the pressure put on our NHS". Paperchase is still trading online and suggests customers follow the brand on Instagram or become its friend on Facebook for a "daily dose of goodness".

Supply chain: SCALA, the supply chain and logistics consultancy, has announced the creation of the Covid-19 Supply Chain Collaboration Group in the UK, which aims to ensure that essential supplies reach people and businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially composed of the UK’s biggest manufacturers and suppliers of consumer essentials, the group’s first online meeting will take place on Wednesday 25 March to share ideas and co-ordinate strategies.

Economy: GlobalData predicts coronavirus will wipe £12.6 billion from retail sales in 2020 – with clothing retailers being hit the hardest. To put that into perspective, the £12.6 billion figure equals the same amount as Aldi recorded in sales for the whole of 2019.

Morrisons: The supermarket retailer Morrisons has begun introducing plastic screens at the checkout to protect its staff amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Ribble Cycles: The bike retailer has announced it will host a virtual bike show on Friday 27 March. The ‘Ribble Live’ event will replace what the company had planned to showcase at The London Bike Show on 27-29 March – an exhibition that has been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. Interested parties can tune into the retailer's website, Facebook Live, or YouTube via their tablet, mobile device or laptop to hear the latest news about the brand. 

Kingfisher: B&Q and Screwfix stores will remain open, according to parent company Kingfisher.

The retailer said: "We are putting measures in place to ensure we can run stores safely, for customers and our people, including restricting the number of people in store at any one time, reducing store opening hours, strict social distancing rules, and protective measures at checkouts. In addition, we are boosting our online home delivery and click & collect capacity, including via a new ‘drive-through’ option to enable customers to collect their purchases whilst minimising contact."

Debenhams: The struggling department store retailer is the latest to announce temporary store closures. Debenhams said it has made the "tough decision" to shutter all UK and Ireland stores by close of play today.

Primark: The fashion retailer announced it has “regrettably informed suppliers that we will stop placing new orders” in order to manage its stock during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Costa Coffee: The coffee chain joins the likes of McDonald's and Nando's in closing its stores in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Costa will close its doors from this evening. It said it would "do its best" to keep hospital stores open and continue to provide free takeaway coffee for NHS workers. Subway has also authorised all franchised stores to close as of 5pm today.

"This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times"Primark boss, Paul Marchant

Sunday 22 March 2020

McDonald's: The fast-food retailer has announced it will be closing all of its 1,350 restaurants in the UK and Ireland by 7pm Monday 24 March. Last week, the franchise closed its seating areas to become takeaway only to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but in a statement on Sunday evening, McDonald's UK boss Paul Pomroy said it was impossible to operate this type of service whilst maintaining safe social distancing.

Nando’s: The restaurant chain has temporarily closed all its UK restaurants until further notice to protect the health of its staff and customers. The move was confirmed by a post on the company’s official Twitter account on Sunday night.

Waterstones: The book retailer has decided to close all 280 UK branches from Monday, despite boss James Daunt, being reported to have said  that his stores were as important as supermarkets and pharmacies. The retailer joins a raft of store closures announced this weekend. 

Financial Conduct Authority: The FCA is advising companies it is aware were intending to publish preliminary financial statements in the next few days to delay publishing their reports for at least two weeks. The regulatory body said the delay is to prevent investors from receiving out-of-date information. This is the first time listed companies have been told not to report their financial results. 

Primark: Associated British Foods will close its 189 UK Primark stores from this evening. The retailer joins the likes of HMV and Timpson which have shuttered stores this weekend due to the spread of coronavirus. But while the majority of other retailers are encouraging customers to shop with them online, Primark does not have an operational eCommerce website. Chief exec Paul Marchant, said: "This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times."

Sainsbury's: The grocer has updated its priority opening hours to separate NHS workers from elderly and vulnerable people, after customers wrote to chief exec Mike Coupe expressing their concerns of further spreading of the virus. Healthcare workers will be able to shop from 7.30-8am every day from Monday to Saturday, while other priority shoppers will have an hour to shop 8-9am Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Store closure analysis: Despite the government enforcing the closure of pubs, cafes, gyms and theatres, but not specifying retail stores, there has been a raft of announcements detailing the shuttering of retail stores up and down our high streets. Guy Elliot, senior industry lead of retail at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient, said the government’s measures to pay 80% of workers’ salaries when businesses can’t may have accelerated store closures.

He said “A lot of the non-food (grocery and or prepared) retailers will certainly have already been looking to close down or at least massively scale down their physical presences for the foreseeable future… I think the government measures will just make that easier for them to do, with less guilt, so it may accelerate the process. The only exception to that is that online divisions will be scaling up so they may well try to deploy a lot of their store staff into picking and packing functions to maximise the revenue through their digital channels.”

New Look: 480 New Look stores will close from 5pm today. The website remains open and the retailer is extending its return policy to 90 days. 

John Lewis: The department store retailer will close all 50 stores from Monday 23 March. While all 338 Waitrose supermarkets will remain open, its food offerings at Watford, Southampton and Bluewater will close. John Lewis is encouraging customers to shop online, and reminded them they can pick up parcels at Waitrose click & collect points. The retailer expects fashion sales to decline, while electricals and home products may increase while people continue to work from home and try to stay connected.

“The Partnership has traded for over 155 years, during which time we have faced many difficult periods, including two world wars and the 2008 financial crisis," said John Lewis chairman, Sharon White. "On every occasion, thanks to our customers and Partners, and the long standing relationships with our suppliers and stakeholders, we have emerged stronger. We all need to continue to support each other and our strength and resilience will be tested. But they will not be broken."

The retailer said over 2,000 John Lewis Partners are already working in Waitrose shops to "assist with the unprecedented demand for grocery and other essential goods". It said it will try to redeploy as many John Lewis Partners as possible to support Waitrose and the John Lewis online business. 

I think the government measures will just make it easier for retailers to [close stores], with less guiltGuy Elliot, senior industry lead of retail at digital consultancy Publicis Sapient

Legislation: The government thanked staff working in supermarkets for their hard work in recent weeks to keep shelves stocked, while asking the public to respect purchase limitations a number of supermarkets have put in place. The environment, food and rural affairs secretary, George Eustice, dismissed a suggestion that food rationing might have to be introduced in the coming weeks, saying it was up to supermarkets to come together to decide on purchase limits and relax those when they see fit. Eustice urged the public to think of NHS workers who are unable to purchase food at the end of long shifts.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, joined Saturday’s government press briefing and pointed out there is an extra billion pounds worth of food in peoples’ houses that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. She likened the peak in demand to Christmas, but without the four month build up retailers usually have: “We’ve been able to do that in two weeks”.

She said there is plenty of food in the supply chain and the problem is not around a lack of food, but around “people and lorries”, and Dickinson encouraged shoppers to only buy what they need and commended government for lifting curfew hours for deliveries in order to get supermarkets restocked.

M&S: The grocery arm of the retailer has said it is looking to quickly roll out an internal app it developed earlier this year which allows colleagues to connect surplus products with the local charities. Where it has already launched, M&S has seen donations increase by 100%. 

Asda: CEO Roger Burnley pledges £5 miilion to FairShare and the Trussell Trust to help the country's most vulnerable through the crisis. Asda also announced a reduction in store opening hours to 8am-8pm, as well as priority access for NHS workers between 8-9am Monday, Wednesday and Fridays in larger format stores.

Aspinal of London: Luxury leather goods retailer is yet another store to close its physical stores to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Aspinal's website remains open. It joins the likes of Reiss and Michael Kors and iconic department store Harrods which have also closed stores this weekend. 

Sainsbury's: The grocer has announced extra in-store measures for NHS workers, with 8-9am Monday, Wednesday and Friday reserved for NHS and social care workers, as well as elderly and vulnerable people. Sainsbury's is also reducing opening hours for all stores to 8am-8pm to allow staff to restock shelves. 

Friday 20 March 2020

Whistles: The clothing retailer joins a long list of stores closing its doors this weekend. Whistles pointed customers to its website, saying it has extended returns policies.

Arcadia: Topshop owner and retail mogul Philip Green has made the decision to temporarily close his chain of fashion stores from 4pm Friday, including Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Evans and Burton. The retailer said store staff would be paid their salaries for March plus any outstanding overtime payments, while it would continue to 

The White Company: Home and clothing retailer announces its decision to temporarily close all of its stores from the end of Saturday 21 March to protect 1,700 staff members. 

The Body Shop: Skincare and beauty retailer emails customers to inform them its stores will begin closing today, with all stores temporarily shuttered by 3pm Saturday 21 March. MD Linda Campbell said store staff would be paid until 4 April and The Body Shop would be "monitoring and reviewing the situation closely".

Legislation: Government rolls out a raft of financial measures to help people and businesses survive the coronavirus crisis, including stepping in to pay people’s wages when businesses can’t – the Coronavirus Retention Scheme will pay 80% of the salary of retained workers up to £2,500 a month. Chancellor Rishi Sunak also said the government will defer VAT payments until end of June 2020.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, commented on the measures: "The VAT deferral is a vital lifeline for thousands of firms and millions of jobs in UK retail. Hardworking staff across the retail industry should benefit from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will guarantee wages and help keep people in jobs. But it is essential that both are delivered promptly and effectively.

"However, the challenge to communities, shops, jobs and livelihoods remains all to real. The Government has shown itself to be both bold and flexible in its handling of this unfolding crisis. This approach will be vital in the coming months as further actions may well become essential to the survival of businesses and jobs around the country."

Legislation: Government tells cafés, pubs, theatres and gyms to close as of this evening.

Uber Eats: Until the end of the month, Uber Eats is waiving activation fees and offering free delivery for all independent restaurants to encourage orders for over 15,000 small and medium businesses. The delivery app is also extending its service to more convenience stores to help customers who are being told to stay at home following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Transport 2: The transport management services provider has unveiled an emergency package to enable essential UK workers, such as NHS staff, to continue travelling to work during public transport disruptions. Through its various brands, including, Transport 2 will offer home-to-work shuttle services for as many as 5 million frontline staff.

Crosstown Collective: A new collaboration has been announced by the founders of Crosstown Doughnuts, Millers Bespoke Bakery, and The Estate Dairy to supply addresses across London with fresh food and drinks during the Covid-19 crisis. The initiative aims to ensure these independent businesses can survive during this uncertain period, as well as help keep those in the UK capital who are self-isolating supplied with food.

IMRG: February saw UK online retail sales decrease 0.4% year-on-year, well below the three-, six-, and 12-month rolling averages of 4%, 7.5%, and 5.3% respectively. The month was particularly bleak month for multichannel retailers, whose sales dropped by 8.2%. Meanwhile, online-only retailers experienced a 12.5% year-on-year upturn in sales.

IMRG said these discrepancies could be “hugely exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis”, especially with many shop closures expected to mirror what has happened in other countries where the virus has progressed at a faster rate.

The Hut Group: The global technology and online consumer brand has announced it will be creating over 500 new jobs across its manufacturing and distribution sites. This follows a recent surge in demand for the group’s health, beauty and nutrition products. The move could help offset job losses caused by the economic impact of COVID-19.

Hotel Chocolat: The chocolatier has announced it will be temporarily suspending its next and nominated day service due to the huge increase in customers requesting immediate delivery. This measure aims to free up the time of staff to ensure a good standard of service continues to be provided to customers, including for existing, time-sensitive orders. A number of in-store experiences have also been suspended to protect the health of customers, such as sampling unwrapped chocolate.

House of Fraser: Due to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, Frasers Group expects a significant impact on its business, and will therefore no longer be giving formal guidance in relation to the financial year 2020. The company also expressed its faith in the abilities of its management team to respond quickly to the new challenges and changing market conditions.

M&S: The retailer has put in place a series of contingency plans to mitigate the changing consumer spending habits caused by COVID-19. While M&S expect their food business to trade profitably throughout the crisis, it acknowledges there will be a substantial impact on clothing and home products. As well as managing costs and cash, the company is preparing for temporary closure of some of its stores and to increase its online penetration.

Fast-food chains: Pret a Manger, Leon, Starbucks, Greggs and many more are rallying around to support NHS works with free coffee and discounts on food.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Ikea: The Swedish flat-pack furniture store has announced its decision to close all UK and Ireland stores from Friday 20 March. While online operations continue, Ikea hastened to add customers could request contact-free deliveries.

Legislation: UK supermarkets have been told they will be allowed to exchange data on stock levels, share warehouse space and delivery vans, and team up to serve consumers during the coronavirus crisis, after the government temporarily relaxed elements of competition law. The measures, which were announced by the environment secretary, George Eustice, will also allow retailers to pool staff with one another to help meet demand.

John Lewis Partnership: Along with a £1 million Community Support Fund and protected shopping time for the elderly and vulnerable, John Lewis is exploring digital services including offering online sessions for customers who are self-isolating at home. These could include wellbeing, craft and cookery classes, as well as advice for expectant parents provided by experts.

RetailEXPO: The UK's leading retail event has been cancelled due to the pandemic. The event will now take place in April 2021.

Next: Full-year sales are up 3.3% to £4.36 billion at Next, but the high-street stalwart is predicting it could lose as much as £1 billion of sales to Covid-19 this year.

Ocado: Despite unprecedented consumer demand for Ocado deliveries, the online grocery has kept full-year 2020 guidance unchanged at 10-15% growth in sales. Ocado said: “We assume there to have been a large element of forward buying of ambient items and there may be further disruptions ahead."