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Three states in COVID lockdown signals a challenging period ahead for retail

Small businesses are having to adapt to click and collect and online only orders

More than $8 billion worth of retail trade is now at risk nationally with the COVID lockdown in Victoria extended for another seven days and South Australia in lockdown joining New South Wales. Blayney, Cabonne and Orange local government areas in regional NSW were also thrown in to lockdown after cases were reported.

The mounting pressure on small businesses who are struggling for survival without an adequate safety net like JobKeeper is significant. Under the restrictions, many businesses cannot open or trade at all, while others are forced to pivot to stay afloat with take-away, click & collect and online sales.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said with South Australia in lockdown, 68 days of state-imposed lockdowns are now a reality so far in 2021.

“Another day, another state in a COVID lockdown. The financial pain continues to mount for small businesses who were already struggling before these latest outbreaks. The hopes for survival for many are quickly fading without adequate support measures in place,” Zahra said.

Zahra said, “With that being the case, it’s clear we need the return of an effective support scheme like JobKeeper to ensure businesses can stay afloat and connected to their employees. Whilst the existing Federal COVID disaster payments are certainly welcomed, they fall short of a liveable income and the arrangements that were in place under the first phase of JobKeeper. This, along with the Leasing Code of Conduct, were major factors keeping businesses alive through the initial phase of the pandemic.”

“The ARA is repeating its calls for a nationally consistent approach to COVID lockdowns and restrictions. There is still no national definition on what is included in ‘essential’ retail. It differs from state to state and is an absolute nightmare for businesses with a national footprint whose stores are affected in different ways depending on what city they’re in”, Zahra said.

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb said that further lockdowns will require further support to safeguard jobs. “Each week Victoria goes into lockdown retailers across the state lose a combined $1 billion in sales. Victorian small businesses have been hit harder than any other following five lockdowns in 16 months. Retailers across the state who have been forced to close or severely limit their business operations are going to need support or jobs will be lost.”

Lamb said that South Australian retailers stood to lose $250 million after it was announced it too would enter a seven-day lockdown.

“Even a short, sharp and successful lockdown can have a giant impact on businesses forced to close. Not only do they forgo revenue for the days they’re unable to trade, but reopening is not like flicking on a light switch – rosters need to be organised, stock needs to be ordered, and protocols need to be implemented.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics preliminary retail report released yesterday reveals a fall of sales by 1.8% in June, which follows a rise of 0.4% in May. Retail businesses are faced with a challenging period ahead as COVID uncertainty impedes sales.

Industry bodies called for calm and respect to retail workers providing essential services and products, as the lockdown continues in to months, rather than weeks.

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