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HomeNEWSCovid-19 updates: Can retailers sell online during the lockdown?

Covid-19 updates: Can retailers sell online during the lockdown?

New Zealand’s collective journey into lockdown has proceeded at lightning speed. On Monday, it was business as usual but with more handwashing, and four days later, almost everybody’s settling in for four weeks of no business. Some retailers initially expected that they’d be able to transfer their business online and continue selling during lockdown, but new information means it’s now clear that won’t be possible.

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ, says his understanding is that retailers are not able to keep selling online unless they are an essential service.

“The Government is considering this point further, but there is no timeline for a decision,” he says. “In the meantime, we are advising members who are not essential services that they should close their online store.”

Scott Jenyns, chief executive of courier firm Aramex New Zealand, confirmed today that it can’t accept items for delivery from any company which isn’t an ‘essential business’. 

“Aramex New Zealand sought advice from Government officials yesterday and it was confirmed that we can only move items from customer that are classified as an ‘essential business only,’” Jenyns says. “However it is not our position to determine whether a business is deemed an essential business, this decision falls on the customer and we will continue to get further advice on this.”

Booksellers NZ says it believes ceasing to sell online during the lockdown is part and parcel of closing the business for four weeks.

“Having staff in store fulfilling online orders and liaising with couriers is not in the spirit of the official requirements to isolate and avoid travel. The intention of the unprecedented lockdown is to avoid any unnecessary contact for the health and safety of all New Zealanders.”

Nelson-based freeze dried meal company Absolute Wilderness is one of the few retailers continuing to sell online. Managing director Andy MacDonald says his team saw the restrictions coming a week ago and enacted a pivot to allow them to stay open.

The direct-to-customer ecommerce and outdoor wholesale parts of Absolute Wilderness’s business have fallen away, but the company continues to supply supermarkets and has acquired new essential-business clients. These include Governnment organisations and rest homes.

“We realised our products would perfectly fit what essential services would need,” MacDonald says.

The company’s production processes already met most of the Government’s criteria for safe operation, meaning Absolute Wilderness’s application was easier than it could be.

“None of our staff have to face customers so we’re shielded from the general public,” says MacDonald.

In this dynamic situation, MacDonald  acknowledges it’s still not totally clear what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. He’s ready to step back and close Absolute Wilderness if the Government deems this necessary.

“If we can’t open, we won’t. We’re not trying to push the envelope.”

You can find out more about registering as an essential business via the Ministry for Primary Industries here.

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