Between the ‘loungewear’ emails and the ‘we-give-a-shit-please-buy-something’ emails, some brands have been hoping to offset some of the losses of physical retail with online. Online has the potential to be many brands’ life support machines; keeping some form of cash flow ticking over and the lights on.
Left - Net-a-Porter has closed its American website & warehouse
Dixons Carphone has said sales surged by more than 70% as Britons rushed to buy laptops, games consoles and freezers to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Online sales in the UK and Ireland surged 72% in the three weeks to 21 March.
“There will be some recovery through online operations but overall the loss of sales will adversely impact our full-year profitability and cash position,” it said. The group said as a result it would still miss out on about £400m of sales between now and the end of its financial year in April.
Fashion has a lot less ‘need’ and as such will be harder hit. Fashion brands have huge amounts of stock sitting in stores, not going anywhere anytime soon. These shops have now become in-town warehouses, but they still need manning and this has become a problem for some brands. Many consumers seem to think that online and offline is separated, robotically picked and magically appears on their doorstep.
The family owned department store chain, Fenwicks said in a statement: "Our people, both employees and customers alike, are at the heart of our business... Therefore, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our website as well as our stores, to ensure the safety of our teams and customers.” Fenwicks only went online in 2017 and pick the items from in-store stock.
Schuh, the footwear retailer, too has closed its website. Chief executive Colin Temple said: “At this point in time, the UK government guidelines include that online retail should ‘still open’ and ‘is encouraged’ along with advice that if staff cannot reasonably work from home, they should continue to go into work.
“However, with the Schuh head office and DC operations based in Scotland and Scottish Government advice conflicting with UK government advice, Schuh management have made the decision to close their website, in addition to their stores that already closed from the evening of Sunday 22 March.”
He added: “A number of DC staff continue to indicate that they want to work within the warehouse to support the Schuh online business, along with other departmental employees offering their support also. However, Schuh management have confirmed that the website and stores will remain closed until there is updated UK and Scottish government advice.”
No doubt demand has fallen overall with many people tightening their expenditure and only buying what they need. But, what about the exclusively online retailers? Most surprising is Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter has closed its American business. Customers visiting the US site are now met with a message that reads: “In line with local government guidelines, and for the health and safety of our community, we have temporarily closed our warehouse. We hope you are all staying safe and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”
This is a nightmare for fashion brands selling products with a shelf life. The discounts have already started, and they’re big, Liberty of London went straight in with 50% off. Some retailers are doing okay at online, but even the best figures won’t replace physical retail, representing a 20/80 split between online and offline. To shift all this stock they will need to discount heavy, eating into profit margins, and consumers, used to a never-ending supply of ‘Just In’ will have to adjust to a new shopping landscape with less choice.
Update - Next, River Island & Moss Bros have announced their websites will close.
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