London (CNN Business)Hundreds of millions of people around the world have been told to stay home to combat the coronavirus pandemic, driving huge demand for online shopping and food deliveries.
Yet many companies including Net-a-Porter and Next are struggling to keep their online operations afloat as the continued spread of the novel coronavirus makes it harder for delivery and warehouse workers to do their jobs and stay healthy.
One of the world’s leading online luxury fashion retailers, Yoox Net-a-Porter told shoppers on Friday that it is temporarily closing distribution centers and suspending services in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. “We want to do everything we can to keep our colleagues, community and customers safe,” it said in an email to customers. It continues to operate in Asia Pacific.
Next (NXGPY), one of the United Kingdom’s largest clothing retailers, said in a statement Thursday that it is temporarily closing its online, warehousing and distribution operations because staff working in these areas “increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate.”
The announcement came after BuzzFeed News reported that Next, which had already closed its physical stores, was not following the government’s directive to keep at least two meters between people in warehouses. Next did not respond to a request for comment from CNN Business, but a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that social distancing “is being strenuously policed.”
UK online clothing retailer ASOS (ASOMY) has also come under scrutiny over protections for warehouse staff. GMB, a trade union in Britain, said Thursday that ASOS was “playing Russian roulette” with the lives of 4,000 employees who work at one of its warehouses in England.
“Workers report no social distancing measures, a complicated clocking in system which means large numbers of people gather in a small area, and hundreds of workers all breaking for lunch at the same time,” it said in a statement.
A spokesperson for ASOS said the allegations are false. “We typically have around 500 colleagues working in our 680,000 square-feet facility at any one time and we have strict social distancing protocols in place,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that it was the responsibility of workers to adhere to these protocols.
ASOS said it was “striking the right balance” between keeping its warehouse operational for the good of employees and the wider economy, while maintaining the health and safety of staff.
The UK government has closed the country’s pubs, theaters, cinemas and gyms, and directed companies to allow employees to work from home where possible. When people do leave home for work, food or medicine, they are to stay two meters apart from each other. Restaurants are only allowed to provide take-out meals.
In the United States, Amazon (AMZN) staff have flagged inadequate oversight of hygiene practices and a lack of worker screening for possible symptoms. The company’s warehouses are facing a growing tide of coronavirus cases, with at least 11 facilities hit so far, according to Amazon and local media reports. The online retailer has temporarily shuttered some sites, but has largely refrained from mass closures.
In an internal memo posted to Amazon’s corporate blog on Saturday, CEO Jeff Bezos said the company has placed orders for “millions of face masks” meant for employees and contractors.
“Masks remain in short supply globally and are at this point being directed by governments to the highest-need facilities like hospitals and clinics,” he said. “When our turn for masks comes, our first priority will be getting them in the hands of our employees and partners working to get essential products to people.”
Food delivery apps adapt
Food delivery apps have also been forced to take steps to protect riders and drivers, as well as customers.
Uber Eats (UBER), Deliveroo and Just Eat (JSTTY)have launched contact-free delivery, allowing delivery workers to leave food at the door. Other measures being adopted to boost order volumes and customer choice include suspending delivery fees and waiving sign-on costs for new restaurants that remain open for take-out and want to join the platforms.
In the United Kingdom, the closure of popular chains such as McDonald’s (MCD) earlier this week will weigh on volumes. By one analyst’s estimate, McDonald’s accounts for about half of the 30 million orders that Uber Eats does in the country each year.
Deliveroo said in a statement that 3,000 new restaurants in Britain have joined the platform in the past month.
“Restaurants turning to delivery on Deliveroo include large chains, local family favorites, Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as takeaways, the majority of which did not perform delivery services until now,” it said.
— Eoin McSweeney, Brian Fung and Sara Ashley O’Brien contributed to this report.
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