March 7, 2021

Online Retailers are helping us all to cope better with the Pandemic

Dr Peter Mowforth

The UK Government has said that “delivery facilities should remain open and operational” and “Businesses are encouraged to take orders online”. Also, “travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home” is accepted. Specifically “Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal.”

In Scotland, Government advice follows the same policy including “stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people, wash your hands regularly and wash your hands as soon as you get home”. Again, “Online retail is still open and encouraged”

The position from the Government is that business owners and management have a clear duty and responsibility to ensure that everything reasonably possible is done to make the workplace safe and free from pandemic infection. Also, the only people who are at a place of work that is different to where they live are those that cannot do the necessary work from home. All management, marketing and admin staff should no longer come into work but operate remotely.

Since lockdown commenced on 23rd March, we have been speaking with a wide range of ecommerce businesses to help understand how their businesses have changed during the pandemic. Some like RemnantKings  and FreezeProShop went into administration. Others like Schuh and Toolstop were unsure about Government advice around the term ‘essential’, took a cautious approach, mothballed the businesses and then subsequently reopened. PowertoolWorld who, given that they were supplying products to the emergency services, the NHS and the Army, stayed open.

Some small ecommerce businesses such as LilyBlanche, SarahHaran or Labels4kids have been able to continue to trade but are doing so entirely from home offices.

A great many ecommerce companies have witnessed dramatic changes in the audiences for their products as well as the products themselves. Both WholesaleDomestic and YARDdirect have seen a major shift away from B2B and towards home DIY sales. DirectOfficeSupply now sees 100% of their sales for home office use. Food and Drink companies such as Filshill, Flavourly and DonaldRussell have seen a positive surge in online ordering. Pharmacy/Health chain Jan de Vries have witnessed extraordinary levels of sales while the UK’s largest seed potato suppliers JBA completely sold out of all available seed potato stock - this has never happened before.

These larger businesses are all using a combination of:

  • All management and admin staff now working remotely but maintaining operations through upgraded IT.
  • Operating a 2+ metre rule around staff distancing for those who have to operate at the workplace.
  • Using PPE equipment including gloves, masks and visors and hair covering where necessary.
  • Ensuring continuous availability of hand sanitisers and wipes.
  • Requesting washing of hands before and after a session of work.
  • Requesting that people use their own crockery, cutlery or any other items for breaks and meal times.

One unnamed business owner said “I’m not sure how you can decide what is essential. What is clear is that people and organisations still need to buy things. If it wasn’t for the ecommerce companies that provide products and the courier companies that deliver these to customer’s doors then life for all of us would be much much harder”. As for the courier companies, DHL is currently averaging 1.1 million parcels per day in the UK. This compares to 1.4 million during last Black Friday - i.e. the daily average parcel volume is now close to the Black Friday spike.

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