How Australia’s retailers are coping with COVID-19

Australia's Retailers

In just the space of a month, the retail sector has been drastically impacted by Covid-19. Across the news, the past few weeks have seen shops shutting their doors, while shopping malls are largely deserted.

But behind the headlines, there are a wealth of retailers and even shopping centres using truly innovative strategies to pivot, shift their focus and serve clientele in a whole new way.

Here are just a few heartening examples of how that’s taking place.

Shopping centres

As social distancing measures came into effect shopping malls felt some of the greatest impacts of Covid-19.

Now, many have unveiled innovative initiatives to ensure their retailers remain relevant. Among those introducing new measures is the Scentre Group, which runs Westfield.

Last week, they introduced Westfield Direct – a contactless click and collect service that allows consumers to purchase products in one transaction from multiple retailers then pick them up from the convenience of their car via a contactless drive-thru location at their local centre.

Scentre Group Director Customer Experience, Phil McAveety told Shopping Centre News so far response to the initiative had been positive.

“For our retail partners who are still able to trade within government restrictions, Westfield Direct provides a new way for them to continue reaching their customers,” Mr McAveety said.

“The response from our retailers so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with dozens joining each day and we’re looking forward to seeing where the Westfield Direct service takes us in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, centres like Melbourne Central and Burwood Brickworks have taken a very different tack.

Inside Retail explains Melbourne Central recently launched MCTV – a virtual channel which features gigs, how-tos, brand giveaways and even a virtual wine tasting hosted in collaboration with local partners and emerging talent.

“Us Melbournians are social butterflies… and thanks to MCTV we can live our best life online and celebrate the vibrant culture of our city,” the shopping centre announced.

“There are no cancellations at MCTV. Just because clubs are closed, doesn’t mean you can’t get your groove on. We’re kicking off MCTV with fashion and beauty inspo for your next House Party call.”

Burwood Brickworks is also thinking outside the box, offering a focus on health and wellbeing. They’re providing online yoga and cooking classes to stay connected with customers, while brands that reside there, like Insight Early Learning, are offering chidren’s educational experiences.

“We always want Burwood Brickworks to offer a fun and engaging experience. Right now, this means taking that experience to people in new and different ways,” centre manager Eric Park told Inside Retail.

The online push

Australia's Retailers

Online retail is playing a major role in supporting bricks and mortar through the unprecedented slump brought about by Covid-19 and that’s seeing some nimble thinking by a wealth of big-name retailers.

Among them is Kmart which recently closed three of its 240 stores to the public to convert them to online dispatch centres.

Stores at Brandon Park, Victoria, Top Ryde, New South Wales, and Caboolture, Queensland, have now been closed to the public as the retailer looks to cope with huge online demand.

“Our store teams continue to work in store as part of the fulfilment team, ensuring that our Kmart customers and communities have easy access to the products they need, at the time they need them most,” a Kmart spokesperson told Inside Retail.

Myer is also seeing strong online sales, with the retailer recently enjoying massive sales spikes over Easter.

Chief customer officer Geoff Ikin told Inside Retail, overall online sales rose 800 per cent over the long weekend, with customers targeting self-care and home improvement categories.

“Beauty sales rose a massive 7000 per cent on Saturday, April 11, due to the department store’s discount on beauty products, with skincare, fragrances and makeup being the main items purchased,” Inside Retail reported.

“Additionally, intimate apparel orders rose 600 per cent, with customers targeting sleepwear, lingerie, activewear and underwear.

“Sales in home and entertainment also rose 300 per cent while childrenswear and menswear rose 140 per cent and 160 per cent respectively.”

To cater to demand, the retailer brought back 2000 of its staff.

Great initiatives

In some instances innovation and assistance has been driven from outside the retail sector. One example is the launch of a new website called ‘Still Open For Business’.

Catering to all businesses, the site is basically an up-to-date database of the many businesses including retailers that remain in operation.

The site was created by advertising agency MMR, over 400 businesses have been added since its launch and still the numbers are rising, according to MMR managing director Rob Kennedy.

“We hope to provide a channel that Australian’s can use for all of their needs during this time. And ultimately, we hope to provide a platform that is not only useful to Australian’s but one that inspires them to continue supporting local businesses, which is so important for the economy once we come out the other side,” Mr Kennedy told the Australian Retailers Association.