Myer continues to operate online as all stores close

Woolworths and Coles also continue to ramp up online efforts to help vulnerable customers.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Myer has announced it would continue to operate its online businesses despite closing all of its stores for an initial four weeks, up until April 27, in a move to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The last day of trading for all Myer stores was Sunday.

As a result of the decision, Myer has stood down approximately 10,000 staff across its store network and store support office.

The company added a small group of "business-critical roles" would be maintained to continue "essential work" during the period and to support the online business. The remaining roles are operating at 80% of their normal salaries and contract hours, Myer said.

"The decision to temporarily close all Myer stores and stand down so many loyal and dedicated team members is one of the toughest decisions this company has faced in its 120 years of operation," Myer CEO John King said.

"Our focus must remain on operating our business in a manner that protects the health and wellbeing of customers and team members, whilst supporting the government, and the communities in which we operate, in limiting the spread of COVID-19.  

"We will focus on ensuring we offer the best possible online experience for our customers, whilst being ready to restart the business in four weeks."

As part of its online operations, Myer said it has reduced the threshold for free delivery to AU$49 per order and has extended its 30-day change of mind return policy for "reasonable requests".

In a separate update, Woolworths has announced it will deliver household staples to the elderly, people with disability, and those who are required to self-isolate as part of its Woolworths Basic Box offering.

The grocery giant said the basic boxes, which can be ordered online or via the phone, can be purchased by those who hold eligible concession cards.  

In partnership with Australia Post, Woolworths would provide home delivery for essentials items such as flour, sugar, toilet paper, hygiene products, long-life milk, pasta, canned soup and vegetables, tea, and biscuits for a flat rate of AU$80. Estimated delivery is 2-5 business days.

A limit of two boxes per eligible customer, per fortnight will be applied.

"We've created the Woolworths Basics Box to help provide meals, snacks and a few essential items for those in genuine need. It's not perfect -- it doesn't include everything and is likely to be different to what you'd normally buy," Woolworths said.

"You're also not able to choose, switch or select the products you'll receive -- but by removing choice we're able to get more boxes to more vulnerable customers faster."

Woolworths added that for vulnerable customers with eligible concession cards who are looking to purchase specific products, they can apply to receive priority assistance and priority access to delivery windows for online orders.

The grocery giant said the allocated early shopping hour for the elderly and disadvantaged would also be extended to include emergency services and healthcare workers.

The dedicated "community hour" between 7 am and 8 am during weekdays will be divided so that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are for seniors and those with disability, while Tuesday and Thursday will be for emergency services and healthcare workers.

In a move to further uphold social distancing measures in its stores, team members at checkouts will rotate every two hours, customers will be asked to pack their own bags at checkout, plexiglass screens at manned checkouts will be introduced, and some registers at self-serve and express checkouts would be closed to provide additional space between customers, Woolworths said.

Last week, Woolworths announced the decision to reduce the trading hours of 41 stores to 11 am to 6 pm to further support the delivery of groceries to vulnerable customers.

According to Woolworths, the extra hours that the "priority delivery hub" stores are not open would be used to pick and pack online orders.

"These 41 'Priority Delivery Hubs' will use the additional hours the stores are not open to customers to pick online orders, with a focus on meeting the increased demand from 'Priority Assistance' customers which includes the elderly, people with disability, those with compromised immunity and people in mandatory isolation," Woolworths said.

Woolworths is also currently hiring 20,000 new roles across its e-commerce, supermarket, supply chain, and drinks business over the next month.

"Our top priority as we continue delivering an essential service to the community is upholding customer and team safety through clear social distancing rules and elevated hygiene standards," Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci.

"As we do this, we will have more hours for existing team members and additional roles to fill as we focus on meeting the needs of our customers and communities.

"These new roles will not only help us better serve the increase in demand we're seeing in stores right now, but also allow us to scale up home delivery operations in the months ahead."

Must read: Australian government readies COVID-19 information app

Similarly, grocery giant rival Coles has also launched two dedicated community shopping periods during the week -- Tuesday and Thursday -- for emergency services and healthcare workers. The remaining days in the week are for customers that are elderly or with disability.

The grocery giant said while it has employed more than 7,000 people in the last fortnight, it is still looking to fill an additional 5,000 roles, including team members to serve customers in-store and replenish shelves, customer service agents to deliver online orders, and in-store bakers.

"We have seen a lot of demand for roles, and where we have positions available, we are making sure that we can get people into them as quickly as possible," Coles CEO Steve Cain said.

"Within the last week, we have also opened three new pop-up distribution centres in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria which has created more jobs in our supply chain network. We are also looking to open additional distribution centres to help us move more stock to stores and will help create even more jobs."

Coles added it is still in the "early stages" of rolling out its online priority service for vulnerable customers as possible. Part of that service would include offering a free 12-hour delivery window between 8 am to 8 pm for all home deliveries. 

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