UK Retailers Under Fire For Nonessential eCommerce

Some U.K. firms are still delivering despite calls to cease due to the virus.

Some U.K. retailers, brushing off accusations that they could be putting lives at risk during the coronavirus pandemic, have continued operating warehouses for distribution despite not offering essential items for sale, according to the Financial Times.

John Lewis and Marks and Spencer are among those that have continued to sell items online, saying their livelihood could be made or broken by being able to make money now. Marks and Spencer, which is among the larger clothing retailers in the country, said many of its sales had been in essential areas like underwear, baby and children’s clothes and bedding.

The company said it was following appropriate social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures, and it had also worked on financial support for staff.

The move has drawn ire from those concerned about the coronavirus’ ongoing impact and contagion factor on public health. Rachel Reeves, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said retailers will have to answer for the decisions they make during this time once the dust had settled. And, unions have said it’s difficult to enforce social distancing at large warehouse spaces with lots of people freely wandering around.

Mark Todd with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said the government should instruct anyone working outside of fields like grocery to stay home.

Retailers, though, aren’t backing down, asserting that the overall impacts of the virus on the U.K. economy that keeps them buoyed would be much further reaching than just the next few weeks. Some said the closures of physical stores had already become a detriment, as only about 20 to 30 percent of their revenue comes from the online sales they’re left with.

And of those businesses that have had to access government support, some haven’t been able to do so easily. The Bank of England has required that companies prove they were in sound financial health before the coronavirus, when some weren’t in good fiscal health beforehand. Some are also thinking this could be their last shot to make money before the government does what other European leaders have done and halts every kind of trading except for food.

Studies from earlier this year showed the U.K. economy already faltering even before the coronavirus became a factor.