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Business secretary writes to retailers to urge them to continue trading online

Lauretta Roberts
09 April 2020

Business secretary Alok Sharma has written to retailers to encourage them to continue to operate online and to thank them for their hard word during the COVID-19 crisis.

In an open letter Sharma said: "The Government has always been clear that online retail can continue to operate and is encouraged, and that postal and delivery services will continue to operate.

"I want to pay tribute to all of you who continue to work tirelessly in the retail sector to ensure that the public can continue to access the goods they need in these challenging times."

His words will be welcomed by those "non-essential" retailers who have been under pressure from the unions to cease trading online during the pandemic.

Sharma said that non-food retailers offered vital supplies to help people with home working, education and home repairs, for example.

"The retail sector is a vital lifeline for those self-isolating, and for all of us in adhering to the Government’s social distancing guidelines. The goods that you supply make a real difference to our ability to get through this national crisis together," he said.

He reiterated the Government position that if workers were able to work from home then they should, but they were permitted to go to their place of work if working from home was not possible.

Most fashion retailers are continuing to operate online, albeit often at reduced capacity, to enable them to generate some revenue while all off their physical retail stores have been closed. New strict social distancing and hygiene measures have been implemented in warehouses to enable e-commerce to continue and Sharma reminded retailers of the guidelines.

Some retailers, however, have suspended trading online, such as Next and Net-A-Porter. Industry sources have suggested that Next is trying to restart is e-commerce once it can do so safely. Meanwhile Net-A-Porter has resumed taking orders on its UK site but says it will only ship items when it is safe for it to open its South London warehouse.

Read the full text of the Business Secretary's letter here.

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