Retail giants are set to rely more heavily on click and collect sales even as lockdown restrictions are eased, with the sector’s peak body cautioning against a rush to fully reopen bricks and mortar stores.
Paul Zahra, Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO, believes the shift towards delivery and kerbside pickup will leave a “legacy” in Australians’ shopping habits, and said one “fundamentally positive” impact of the pandemic has been that retailers traditionally reluctant to move online have now come on board.
Zahra’s comments come as luxury retailers including Dior, Fendi and Gucci quietly reopened their stores this week with social distancing measures, while department store chain Myer and shopping centre powerhouse Westfield prepare for a click and collect Mothers’ Day.
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Queensland was the first state to announce the restart of non-essential shopping, due to begin from Saturday, however the situation remains inconsistent across the country. On Tuesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she expected an increase in retail visits in May, but reminded shoppers to adhere to social distancing measures.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Zahra said staffing and leasing were among the “immediate hurdles” retailers faced as they moved to restore full operations, and noted the government’s $1,500 a fortnight jobkeeper wage subsidy has “made a significant positive impact on retail resilience”.
He said the sector should not move ahead of the “priority issue” of public health and safety, and warned against the impact a second wave of virus infections would have if it forced recently-reopened stores to shut again.
“Obviously, foot traffic is critical to recovery however that is not something that any of us have much control over currently … We need a sustainable economic and retail recovery, over a false start. So it’s important that we follow the guidance of government and health experts in this area.”
Zahra expects larger and smaller retailers to be prepared to reopen “around the same time”, and said the recent uptake of online platforms for small businesses would complement their bricks and mortar operations when they could fully reopen.
“We are mindful that nobody has a crystal ball, here or globally. There will be ongoing adjustments to the new normal activity levels as stores re-open,
“[But] there’s no question there will be a legacy from this in terms of increased digital shopping activity and focus. I see that as fundamentally positive – it’s been on the cards for some time and many retailers have now strengthened their offering in this area,” Zahra said.
The greater reliance on online retailing has already been reported by Myer, which has seen a spike in beauty, entertainment and homewares products, as well as “intimate apparel”.
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While its physical stores will remain closed until 11 May at earliest, the retailer has so far recorded a 250% increase in digital sales since lockdowns came in, and an increase of more than 800% in online traffic during its annual Easter Sale.
In response, Myer Chief Customer Officer Geoff Ikin said the department store has moved to open pop-up click and collect booths “with enhanced hygiene and distancing measures in place” at 22 of its stores across the country, in anticipation of a Mothers’ day online shopping surge.
Westfield has also launched “Westfield Direct”, an initiative to allow contactless pickup of products purchased online from multiple retailers in one transaction.
The company offers the service to its retailers that are still allowed to trade within government restrictions, with customers able to collect their orders at a “drive thru” at their local Westfield.
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