Retail Open Sign With Question Marks

Victorian retail businesses seeking a chance to get back to business in the lead up to their busiest sales periods have been left disappointed, says peak body, the National Retail Association (NRA). In today’s Roadmap to Recovery, the Victorian Government has taken an exceedingly cautious approach to reopening – and while news that the lockdown will end at 70 per cent double vaccination, the constraints that will remain on businesses make opening almost untenable.

Dominique Lamb, CEO of the NRA, has pointed out that retailers need to start planning now in order to be ready for the Christmas rush, where many businesses experience their make or break sales.

“We welcome a pathway to reopening the economy and living with COVID, but the restrictions that will remain on business will continue to hamstring the industry,” Ms Lamb said.

“In this crucial time for retailers, a week and a half can make all the difference to their ability to survive. We query how it is feasible for so many of these small businesses to trade outdoors at the 70 per cent point – in particular, how this works for retailers in shopping centres.

“The impacts to staffing, regulating QR code check ins, mask wearing, and vaccine passports, and having their stock out of doors – where there are environmental issues like sun damage and potential for shoplifting – doesn’t seem to have been considered in this approach.

“We welcome the chance to speak to the Victorian Government about this roadmap, and to constructively develop a plan that helps our retailers get back on their feet after a year of devastating lockdowns.”

Additionally, the NRA is working with the Snowsports Industry Australia (SIA) for support for alpine industries which are on their knees after bushfires and missing two entire seasons of trade, threatening 20,000 jobs in the regions.

Retail and hospitality cannot afford for the situation to persist any longer than it has to. The NRA supports re-opening safely, but the steps that are taken need to help safeguard the businesses that are struggling after 20 months of uncertainty and closures.

Given the retail industry has suffered immense loss during these periods of lockdown, the NRA asks that considerations be given to the below:

  1. Our industry will require at least 2 weeks’ notice to reopen. This will allow us to contend with the shortages in staff we now face and the industrial relations requirements.
  2. We will also require a clear and coherent framework/plan so that there is certainty about the pathway forward. We would expect such a framework/plan to identify:
    • when movement and trading restrictions would be eased and the timing for same, and if in stages (eg 2m2 rule to 4m2 to no density quotient), the preconditions applicable to each stage;
    • the requirements for any stores which may be identified as exposure sites, where workers are vaccinated, especially for those larger stores where proximity sensors and CCTV is installed;
    • if there are to be further hygiene protocols implemented. In this instance, retailers will need time to train their employees. In addition to this, whilst we support vaccination, we would be concerned if any there were any rules implemented which prevented customers from interacting with retailers on the basis of whether they are vaccinated or not. Customer traffic, particularly in shopping centres and CBD/Metro locations has been significantly impacted by lockdown and we would be concerned if any ‘opening up’ continues to be stymied by ongoing rules which restrict movement or trade. Additionally, we know that any new implementation of protocols increases customer abuse and customer violence and retailers would need a commitment to support from local police to assist if required. Shopping Centre security is not in a position to assist.
  3. Assistance with compliance regarding mask-wearing and the use of QR check in codes. Given the retail industry is the largest employer of youth in the country, we need to counter customer abuse and violence directed at our young workers. A visible police presence patrolling larger shopping centres at regular intervals would go some way to diffusing some of the instances of violence that are encountered.
  4. Retailers will require additional financial support moving into the new year especially where large deferred rental amounts are building and ultimately may represent unsustainable debts for small business.
  5. Any stimulus measures which might support a return by workers to metro regions would be helpful. It is our experience that metropolitan regions, particularly shopping centres and CBD precincts, have been hit harder by lockdowns and take longer to return to normal levels of foot traffic and spend rates. We would however caution against stimulus measures being focused solely on limited subsectors of the industry, eg restaurants & cafes (ANZSIC Class 4511) – stimulus support must also be afforded to ANZSIC Class 4512 (takeaway/fast food). This has principally been an issue in Victoria where Class 4511 has been eligible for the Business Costs Assistance Program & its top ups but Class 4512 has not, despite the former already likely operating with a takeaway/delivery model, or being more able to pivot to one, and otherwise being less likely to have to support high shopping centre rents.
  6. Further investment in skilling as we are currently experiencing a skills shortage. We have members with significant employee shortages and retail businesses need investment in micro-skills that can be transferred across retail as a sector.
  7. Further deferrals of payroll tax and reconsidering the current threshold.
  8. A clear outline provided on requirements, concerning the Christmas trading period and activities such as Santa photos and other experiential retail experiences which typically create foot traffic.
  9. Victoria is currently home to a large number of retailers engaged in the snow industry. This industry has been forgotten. Currently it has not been able to operate for 2 whole seasons and in the short period where it was trading, was at 10% of its previous years. This part of our industry consists predominantly of small family owned and operated businesses and they are unlikely to be able to return for the snow season next year. We implore the Victorian government to implement a further Alpine Packages to assist these businesses and create thousands of regional jobs each year.