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April 14, 2020

Next re-opens online, warehousing and distribution ops

UK clothing and homeware retailer Next Plc has begun selling online again today (14 April) – albeit in a limited way – after putting safety measures in place to ensure its warehouse workers are safe.

By Michelle Russell

UK clothing and homeware retailer Next Plc has begun selling online again today (14 April) – albeit in a limited way – after putting safety measures in place to ensure its warehouse workers are safe.

The retailer, which temporarily closed its online business and its warehousing and distribution operations on 26 March due to the coronavirus outbreak, made the decision to reopen after consultations with workers and their union, USDAW.

Next will initially sell only categories it says its customers need most, such as childrenswear and selected small home items. Other product ranges may be added at a later date.

In a notice on its website, Next says it has “successfully tested opening and taking a limited number of orders today,” and that customers can return for ordering tomorrow.

“In order to operate our warehouse safely, we are limiting the number of warehouse colleagues working at any time, and so we will limit the number of customer orders we can take each day,” the retailer explains.

Next says the decision to temporarily close Next Online has enabled it to completely re-organise the way its warehouses work, to enable “rigorous social distancing.”

Logistics operations have been adapted to include a two-metre rule for workstations and mobile tasks, sanitisation of equipment, and the implementation of a new ‘flow’ system around each site to ensure safe movement.

Next says it will also audit and enforce safety rules so that volunteers can quickly get used to the new ways of working.

The retailer has been working with USDAW to select employees who can return to work if they wish.

“Operations will start with support from colleagues who are willing and able to safely return to work,” Next said in a statement. “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, Next will only allow customers to order the number of items that it believes can be picked safely on any given day. At that point we will then stop taking orders and convert the website to ‘browse only’ until the following morning.”

Nigel Frith, senior market analyst at www.asktraders.com, believes Next’s decision to resume trading online may cause some controversy, but adds: “By generating a revenue on a small scale, this could be a break in which businesses need in order to pull through the pandemic, especially as customers will want to be ordering summer items for when we get through the virus.”

Click here for additional insight on the coronavirus outbreak: Is coronavirus a threat to the clothing industry?

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