Next bows to staff pressure and halts online sales

Next, one of the UK’s largest fashion retailers, has bowed to employee pressure and stopped selling online during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Next has listened very carefully to its colleagues working in warehousing and distribution operations to fulfil online orders,” the company said on Thursday. “It is clear that many increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate.”

The distribution centre, near Doncaster, will close from Thursday evening and the company will not take any more online orders “until further notice”. It shut its roughly 500 UK stores after the government said all essential retailers should close temporarily to contain the pandemic.

River Island, a smaller privately owned chain, earlier in the day said it too would stop taking online orders and shut its distribution centre.

The decision will be a costly one for Next, which employs more than 40,000 people and has been more successful than most retailers in migrating its customer base online.

In the year to January, it reported revenue of £2.15bn from ecommerce, outstripping the £1.85bn that its stores took in. Although demand had fallen across the sector, Next recently reported online sales had fallen by less than store sales.

It will also increase pressure on other retailers that have closed their physical store operations but kept online channels open. These include Marks and Spencer, New Look, John Lewis, Sports Direct and the Arcadia stable, which includes Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis.

The Unite union on Wednesday called on Sports Direct chief executive Mike Ashley to send staff at the company’s Shirebrook campus in Derbyshire home on full pay. More than 3,000 people work at the complex, which supplies more than 400 Sports Direct stores and many of the company’s other brands.

Sports Direct had earlier asserted that it should be allowed to keep its stores open because they sell bicycles, which are deemed essential under government guidance.

The debate over what is and is not essential has spread to include so-called variety stores such as B&M, Poundland and Home Bargains, which have remained open because their ranges contain large numbers of food, personal hygiene and cleaning products. 

Poundland issued a statement on Twitter in which it called on social media “chunterers” to remember that it served “a customer who lives week to week and cannot afford to stockpile”.


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