Jewellery chain Michael Hill shuts 304 stores, stands down 1,600 Aussie workers in response to coronavirus

Michael Hill

Jewellery retailer Michael Hill has closed its 217 stores across Australia and New Zealand indefinitely amid the ongoing economic fallout from the fast spreading COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement published to the Australian Stock Exchange on Tuesday morning, Michael Hill said it could not accommodate new social distancing measures with its in-store daily operations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week asked businesses to ensure four square metres is available for every person within indoor spaces, while customers should maintain a 1.5 metre distance from each other in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“In Australia, the current ‘social distancing’ guidelines are not consistent with the day-to-day conduct of our business,” Michael Hill said in a statement, which also noted plummeting sales.

“The drop off in trade the company has experienced in Australia also reflects a customer base that is of course focused on more immediate issues.”

Michael Hill’s 52 New Zealand stores have also been closed indefinitely after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced a full scale shutdown of all non-essential activity across the Tasman.

The retailer’s 87 stores in Canada, closed last week for 14 days, will also now be closed for an indefinite shutdown period, leaving the jewellery chain with only its e-commerce business in operation.

About 1600 staff in Australia will be stood down “with access to leave entitlements” amid the closures, while a review of the company’s corporate support centre will aim to reduce costs by considering possible redundancies.

“Whilst it is clear that the suspension of our store networks is necessary for the safety and wellbeing of our people and our customers – we know also that this will be a time of great uncertainty for them too, and we are doing our best to provide them with the support that they need through this difficult time,” chairperson Emma Hill said in a statement.

The closures see Michael Hill become one of the first major discretionary retail chains in Australia to shutter stores as a result of coronavirus restrictions, ahead of what is expected to be a torrent of other chains following suit as jurisdictions around the world tighten social controls.

Last week, outdoor adventure brand Patagonia said it would temporarily close its eight Australian retail stores, while swimwear retailer Tigerlily collapsed into voluntary administration on Monday.

The United Kingdom joined Germany, Italy and France in announcing a shutdown of all non essential business activity on Tuesday morning Australian time, while a range of local businesses have already been told to shut down.

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