Next webstore reopens, demand instantly hits limit, underlines dilemma fashion faces
Next has taken a big step this week and has reopened its online shop and warehousing and distribution operations following their closure in late March. But it closed the site again quickly as demand surged on Tuesday.
The UK fashion and homewares retail giant had reluctantly shut its operations on March 26, just a few days after its physical shops had been told to close, with workers and analysts being concerned that it would be unable to maintain adequate social distancing for those staff still working.
But the company said on Tuesday that it has now “implemented very extensive additional safety measures” and having consulted with staff and its recognised trade union, USDAW, is reopening its online “in a very limited way”.
It said its operations are starting “with support from colleagues who are willing and able to safely return to work. The idea is to begin selling in low volumes, so that we only need a small number of colleagues in each warehouse at any one time, helping to ensure rigorous social distancing is complied with”.
To achieve these limited volumes, it is only allowing customers to order the number of items that it believes can be picked safely on any given day. At that point, it will then stop taking orders and convert the website to 'browse only' until the following morning.
On Tuesday, it hit that level at 08:30 as customers piled-in, and while traffic could remain high in the days ahead, it's likely that the current situation is down to pent-up demand.
Not that customers can buy anything they want. Initially only categories “that our customers most need” are available to buy, including kidswear and selected small home items. Other product ranges “may be added at a later date,” we’re told.
That's an understandable approach for the company to take both from a logistical viewpoint and a PR one. But it also underlines the massive problem the fashion sector faces as it works out how to one day get back to normal.
The fact is that most of what it produces is seen as ‘non-essential' and public and press opinion – at the moment – is not looking favourably on any attempts it makes to keep going. While that attitude is likely to change as the size of the contribution fashion makes to the economy begins to be more appreciated, for now, fashion is seen as ‘frivolous’ and not a priority.
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