Kristjan Snorrason has had a sobering 48 hours preparing to close his two Music Junction stores in Melbourne ahead of Victoria’s stage four COVID-19 lockdown later this week.
The veteran business owner, who runs stores in Camberwell and Blackburn, says Victoria’s decision to shut down discretionary retail stores is leaning towards a worst-case scenario.
“It was with trepidation and quite a bit of nerves that I went to work yesterday,” Snorrason tells SmartCompany.
But Snorrason is also thanking his lucky stars, having overhauled his e-commerce website during the first stage three lockdown in April — an investment that’s about to pay off big time.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
“We’ve been working really hard over the entire pandemic, so pivoting to an online model isn’t completely foreign to us,” he says.
E-commerce has been a lifeline for Aussie retailers so far this year, with sales up more than 80% in the two months after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March.
The stakes are about to get a whole lot higher for discretionary retailers in Victoria though, with stores forced to shut across Melbourne from midnight Wednesday.
Already elevated levels of online shopping are expected to soar further across the state as consumers boot up their computers for odds, ends and everything in between until at least midway through September.
For Leesa Lambert, owner of Carlton’s The Little Book Room, the next six weeks will be a continuation of the last three, with the shop already closed for browsing and staff busy delivering books to local customers.
“I’m relieved and determined, but it’s been very nerve-racking,” Lambert tells SmartCompany about the stage four restrictions.
“I feel for the first time since March that we’re almost on the front foot.”
The Little Bookroom has been around since 1960 and has been owned by Lambert and her parents Lesley and Ian since 2008.
The business has actually seen sales increase in recent weeks as the local community turns out to support the book shop with online orders and contact-less pick-up.
“There’s a lovely community connection we’ve been able to maintain,” Lambert says.
“We have a lot of families that order weekly … they call my father ‘book Santa’.”
E-commerce rules still a question mark
But e-commerce will look a bit different under the new rules, as officials prepare to mandate “strict safety protocols” for parcel deliveries, alongside COVIDSafe business plans for those with more than five workers.
Those plans will have to be finalised by Friday as officials move to ensure businesses are minimising the risk spreading coronavirus.
Existing guidance for retailers preparing COVIDSafe plans requires a range of measures be taken for stores and e-commerce warehouse operations, including:
- Ensuring workers that can work from home do;
- Collecting records of all workers, customers, clients and subcontractors in the workplace;
- Ensuring one worker per four square metres of enclosed workspace; and
- If a worker is unwell, instructing them to self-isolate and get tested.
Beyond that, there are still few details about what stage four e-commerce deliveries will actually look like as emergency talks between the Victorian government and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) continue today.
Business owners are speculating that contactless deliveries may be mandated, which would mean delivery staff would be required to find a compromise between product security and health requirements.
Snorrason says he’s keen to play by the rules, but would like to know what they are sooner rather than later.
“There’s a gap in information,” he says.
“I don’t mind adhering to the requirements, but let’s just get on with it.”
The possibility of further delivery delays for retailers using Australia Post has also been raised amid a further increase in demand on top of existing delivery challenges caused by the pandemic.
Hands up if you’re a business that has no idea what you’re supposed to be doing/not doing as of Friday 👋 #COVID19Vic
— Kate Morris (@morris_kate) August 4, 2020
An Australia Post spokesperson said the organisation was continuing to process all parcel and letter deliveries but there may be delays under Victoria’s stage four restrictions.
“Ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic mean there may be some delays as our business operates with additional safety measures to protect our people and customers, as well as reduced domestic and international flights, while processing unprecedented parcel volumes,” the spokesperson said.
Lambert says she’s confident the rules will reflect common-sense health advice, but would like to know for sure what regulations the business will need to comply with.
“Most of us will find that our common-sense approach to safety will be echoed by the official guidelines,” Lambert says.
“[But] it’s frustrating not being able to plan, having all the responsibility on your shoulders but not knowing what they want us to do.”