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Retail organisations unite for COVID-19 recovery

As Australia moves beyond the peak of the coronavirus crisis, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has joined with other key industry bodies to develop a Retail Recovery Protocol to restore confidence in stores and shopping centres for both retail employees and the community.

Alongside the Shopping Centre Council of Australia (SCCA), National Retail Association (NRA), Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA), the ARA has created the Retail Recovery Protocol.

The Protocol is a consistent, practical and public-health led guide for shopping centres and retailers that continue to trade, are re-opening, or are preparing to re-open as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease.

This assurance comes as Australia’s governments are implementing the gradual easing of current restrictions, which would see more retailers reopening and increased visitation to shopping centres.

The key principles guiding the development of the Protocol align with the retail industry’s approach to date.

This continues to be prioritising public health and safety to protect people against infection, compliance with public health guidelines, working with governments and public health authorities, and helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Retailers have made an enormous effort to protect staff and shoppers.

Based on recommendations from the National Cabinet, the Protocol outlines 10 key actions that retailers and shopping centre could take, including:

1. Making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available at key locations such as store entrances, building entrances, customer service desks and food courts.

2. Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of regularly used objects and hard surfaces – for example, payment registers, ETFPOS machines, handrails, bathroom door handles, shelves, shopping trolleys, counters and benches, food-court tables, and staffrooms – and other key hygiene measures such as waste disposal.

3. Facilitating and encouraging social distancing and public gathering limits in accordance with government directions. At the time of publication, this is a distance of 1.5m between each person and a limit of no more than one person per 4 square metres in stores.

Suggested actions could include signage reminders, one-way queueing, and ground markings such as stickers or tape.

4. Daily check-ins with staff on their well-being and ensuring staff and contractors are properly trained and have access to relevant information and personal protective equipment.

The SCCA, NRA, SDA, PGA and ARA have also called on Australians to treat retail workers with respect while they continue to serve and ensure the community can access essential and other retail goods and services.

Retailers have made an enormous effort to protect staff and shoppers, working tirelessly to create a safe and healthy in environment through the lockdown period and now, as most businesses prepare to re-open and serve their customers.

This protocol provides the clarity and consistency that retailers are looking for at this time around best-practice.

Retail Reopening-Best Practive Guidelines May 2020: Document includes guide and checklists to help employers prepare for reopening and recoveryARA Resource Portal: Visit portal for updates on government policies, details of financial support packages, and printable posters to display in your store.Covid-19 Webinars: Watch exclusive webinars with experts in finance and risk management to learn about the impacts of the pandemic on the reatial trade.
Retail figures confirm pandemic pain

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the ARA has anticipated a spike in certain categories as people adjust to restrictions, but these increases mask bigger falls across discretionary categories, which has proved a significant challenge.

March retail trade figures, released on 4 May by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), reported year-on-year growth of 10.1 per cent, are consistent with those expectations of category- specific sales increases.

A breakdown of the figures confirms significantly stronger expenditure year- on-year across the food, liquor, pharmacy, and household goods categories as Australians adapted to restrictions and stocked up on additional items for lockdown.

"As stores and shopping centres prepare for re-opening, the safety of customers and staff is the ARA’s top priority."

While month-on-month supermarket sales were up 23 per cent in March, clothing, footwear, and personal accessories recorded significant falls of 22.6 per cent.

March was the eye of the COVID-19 storm for retailers, with all but essential service retailers forced into closure of their physical stores during lockdown.

While that pain of closure has continued during April and into May, we have seen some gentle improvements as many stores have enhanced their online shopping and delivery services.

Indeed, online sales have skyrocketed, and the ARA expects that recently acquired shopping habits will become permanent, as retailers offer new options such as kerb-side pickup and ‘to-go’ options.

Yet it’s been unquestionably tough for retailers, and the true recovery picture won’t start to emerge until physical stores re-open more fully in the coming weeks.

We are likely to see a ‘phased re- opening’; retailers have different considerations, so some will open key stores and wait to open others. Some have cafes attached and will need to delay that area opening, while others are still negotiating with landlords.

While the ARA expects Australians to soon celebrate their freedom with one of their favourite leisure activities – shopping – it anticipates continued caution by consumers for some months as they assess overall economic conditions.

And as stores and shopping centres prepare for re-opening, the safety of customers and staff is the ARA’s top priority, and retailers are making every effort to prepare a safe in-store environment.

New in-store measures such as social distancing, increased hygiene and cleaning, and Perspex screens where appropriate, will be here to stay.

Paul Zahra

Paul Zahra Is the chief executive officer of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA). Email:

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