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E-commerce businesses band together to survive coronavirus

Australia’s online retailers have banded together in a virtual ‘war room’ to share ideas and offer support in the face of the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

A Slack group started on a whim by Adore Beauty co-founder Kate Morris just over a week ago now has more than 180 participants and become a wide-ranging conversation on everything from how to make warehouses more hygienic, to whether head office staff should start working from home, to how to prepare for a total lockdown.

“This is the fight of our lives, and we’ve been given no time at all to prepare for it,” Morris told Internet Retailing.

“When these sorts of things happen, you’ve just got to band together. If at the very least, to support each other as human beings, because a lot of people will have to make horrible and difficult decisions.”

The toughest question businesses are facing right now is whether they can afford to keep their staff.

“If you’ve seen your sales dropping by 75 per cent overnight, how are you supposed to be able to pay everybody? I think that’s what causes business owners the most emotional distress,” she said.

Through the group chat, some businesses that are seeing surges in demand have actually hired staff from businesses that have seen their sales deteriorate.

It’s a community spirit that extends to marketing and communications, too. According to Morris, several businesses have shared their internal policies and response plans for others to use.

“It’s one less thing you’ve got to figure out from scratch,” she said.

But Morris has warned that online retailers need more than a group chat to survive the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus. They also need urgent support from the Government and vendors to reduce their costs, or many will be forced to close.

“Now is the time for the vendors to this industry to really show their true colours,” she said.

“If they really believe in this industry and want to see their customers [retailers] come out the other side – now is the time to do something.”

On Tuesday, Australian consumer confidence plunged to a 30-year low, and March sales are expected to drop sharply in most categories outside the supermarkets.

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