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Next resumes limited e-commerce operations

Lauretta Roberts
14 April 2020

Next has resumed its e-commerce operation having temporarily shut down its warehousing and distribution following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The high street giant said it had consulted staff and the USDAW union and has decided to re-open its offering "in a very limited way". It will initially offer "most needed" categories such as children swear and a selection of homewares with further categories to be aded at a later date.

By selling in low volumes with a smaller number of staff, the retailer said it would be able to observe strict social distancing measures and only the volume of items that can be safely picked will be sold. If orders exceed that volume, the website will be switched to browse only until the following day.

After the mandatory shut-down of non-essential retail on 23 March, Next had initially hoped to keep its e-commerce operations working and had offered staff bonuses to continue to travel to stores to pick orders. However, having consulted with staff, it decided to shut down operations completely.

It said it had used the time to "completely re-organise the way our warehouses work, to enable rigorous social distancing". As well as the limited orders, measures introduced include:

  • A reorganisation of flow around the warehouse including some new walkways
  • Making changes to work allocated to ensure social distancing is observed
  • Enforcement of rigorous sanitation processes
  • Clear guidance for employees on moving and working safely
  • Regular safety audits

The company has also said only staff who wish to come to work will be invited to come and those who are showing symptoms of the virus or are living with someone with symptoms will not be permitted to work. Equally staff in vulnerable groups or unable to travel to work safely will not be asked to work.

A number of businesses also opted to close e-commerce, as well as stores, after the implementation of the new stricter social distancing rules from the Government at the end of March. Footwear chain Schuh initially closed its e-commerce site but re-opened it after consulting with staff and introducing new safeguards.

Luxury giant closed its distribution centre in South London and suspended orders on its website. It has subsequently allowed customers to place orders but has said they will not be fulfilled until it can safely re-open its website. Some orders are being fulfilled from its Asian facility, which is open.

Last week business secretary Alok Sharma wrote to retailers to thank them for their resilience during the COVID-19 crisis and re-iterated the Government's position that while stores had been closed, e-commerce was permitted and encouraged.

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