Fashion giant Next has been forced into a U-turn after asking workers to travel into stores to pick online orders.
The company’s decision to keep warehouses open despite the coronavirus crisis had caused a backlash but the chain will now shut its online operation this evening and stop taking orders.
Bosses had faced sustained pressure from politicians and staff, who suggested they were being pressured into stores.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that the company had offered a 20% pay rise to any worker willing to continue picking jumpers, socks and other clothes for customers.
In a statement issued shortly after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that details of the Government’s support package for employers, Next said it ‘has listened very carefully’.
The company, one of the UK’s biggest fashion chains, added: ‘It is clear that many increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate.
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‘Next has therefore taken the difficult decision to temporarily close its Online, Warehousing and Distribution Operations from this evening, Thursday 26 March 2020.
‘Next will not be taking any more Online orders after this time until further notice.’
There has been unease in the sector over the Government’s position with retailers continuing to trade online – with some reports of workers being forced into warehouses or risk losing their jobs.
Some companies, including McDonald’s and Greggs, have closed all operations, despite being able to continue offering takeaways under current lockdown rules.
And in retail, others have closed down online operations to protect staff from travelling and maintaining ‘social distancing’ measures.
But some fashion retailers continue to run online operations, including Boohoo and Asos, despite the Government calling on all non-essential workers to stay home.
Next has struggled during the outbreak, at first insisting in official communications that it would be considering the company ‘essential’ in the event of a lockdown.
This was changed and stores were closed, but some staff were still being asked to come to sites and pick for online orders.
But with pressure from MPs and reports of workers in warehouses not adhering to social distancing, Next made its latest decision on Thursday evening.
A pinned thread on Next’s official Twitter account had included a tweet which read: ‘Our online business remains open, with all home deliveries and returns now free. We are making every effort to deliver any uncollected parcels in store to the main billing address on your account.’
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