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How retailers are helping customers and one another

In this time of crisis, many businesses are helping the embattled industry, aiming to keep it alive through a period of hibernation and preparing it to spring back to life.

Off the back of a lackluster Christmas period, then the tragedy of the bushfires, many have been caught off-guard by the sudden closure of much of the retail industry. And though there are retailers planning to eventually reopen their stores, it remains to be seen what kind of market these brands will be welcomed back into.

Despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom, as some businesses are stepping up to support the industry.

Online marketplace Ebay is allowing existing customers to defer fees for 30 days, removing listing fees until 30 days, and offering new sellers no selling fees for three months.

Ebay’s new initiative was created to help those that need to get an online store up and running quickly due to the mass closures across the industry in recent weeks.

“We see ourselves as a fundamental piece of infrastructure… for businesses to be able to get through this process and still maintain cash flow,” Ebay managing director Tim MacKinnon told Inside Retail Weekly.

According to MacKinnon, the industry will continue to survive as long as it bands together in moments of hardship, such as the current COVID-19 crisis.

“I understand that retailers are just trying to take stock of what is happening, and the level of change right now is incredible. I wouldn’t try to tell others [how to react], but I would say that just as retailers got together to rally support for those affected by the bushfires, the only way we’re going to get through this is working together.

“And fundamentally, we have to work a bit differently.”

Similarly, online shopping platform Spend With Us has expanded its offer to provide free marketplace stores to struggling small businesses in rural areas hit by the bushfires to those impacted by COVID-19.

“We want to support all small businesses without websites that are wondering how they are going to sell their products and get through the moments ahead when markets are being cancelled and tourists are not coming to their towns,” the business said.

Online retailer Edible Blooms is also supporting small businesses with last week’s launch of Hampers in Hand, a new range of gifts featuring goods from local producers in the Barossa Valley which were impacted by the bushfires and coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Woolworths Group has committed to speed up its process of paying suppliers to ease the financial stress and burden being placed on them.

As of last week, the group’s more than 1100 small suppliers across Big W, Endeavour Group, Woolworths and Countdown will have payments fast tracked to be paid within two weeks, rather than the standard 30 days.

“We recognise that right now many of our small supplier partners are facing additional challenges in the current climate and we want to do our bit to help them out,” Woolworths Group chief financial officer Stephen Harrison said.

A wider response

And while many of these solutions are insular to the retail industry, many businesses have found ways to use their specialities to help in the wider response to the crisis.

The NSW Government last week called on state manufacturers to assist with the supply of medical equipment and hygiene products, with many already willing to step up to help.

Custom t-shirt business brand Citizen Wolf said on Monday it is on a waiting list to pivot its goods production toward personal protective equipment to help with shortages, but said so far, the progress has been “glacial”.

Carlton & United Breweries last week said it partnered with hygiene company Ecolab to produce about 20,000 litres  bottles of hand sanitiser for frontline medical staff, with chief executive Peter Filipovic stating “now is the time to lend a helping hand”.

This story first ran in Inside Retail Weekly. Given the current crisis, we have decided to unlock all premium content related to COVID-19. If you would like to support Inside Retail, please consider subscribing here.

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