Next closes website for the day only hours after reopening


Next has shut its website for the day only hours after reopening, having met its order target by 8.30am.

The clothing retailer reopened its online operations for the first time in almost three weeks on Tuesday after closing because of concerns about the safety of staff in its warehouses during the coronavirus crisis.

Next began taking orders for children’s clothing and small homewares after putting extra safety measures in place, including extra cleaning kits and tabards marked on the back with the message “stay 2 metres apart”.

However, the company rapidly closed its website until Wednesday as it said it had met its daily order target.

A statement on the website said: “In order to operate our warehouse safely, we are limiting the number of warehouse colleagues working at any time, and so we will limit the number of customer orders we can take each day.

“We have successfully tested opening and taking a limited number of orders today. Please come back again tomorrow morning.”

Analysts at Peel Hunt said: “Next hit this daily limit before 8:30am today, suggesting customer demand remains high as ever.” It suggested that the retailer, which sells a number of other clothing brands as well as its own items, would benefit from an industry-wide effort to clear spring and summer stock that has piled up in warehouses during the high street shutdown.

However, Next has predicted that disruption stemming from the outbreak could wipe £1bn off this year’s sales.

Next closed its online operation in late March after concern about the safety of workers in its warehouses and criticism of the continued operation of online stores selling goods considered non-essential.

The high street chain River Island and the luxury fashion retailer Net-A-Porter have also stopped making online deliveries while Asos has come under fire for poor conditions at its Barnsley warehouse.

Next said it had asked for volunteers from its staff to return to work this week and consulted with the Usdaw union on how to select those suitable. About 3,000 volunteers have come forward so far.

The company said it would not be using workers with a temperature, those classified as vulnerable because of health conditions, or who lived with someone vulnerable, or anyone who needed to take public transport to work.

Sofie Willmott, Lead Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view on this news;  “In a much better position to face the COVID-19 pandemic than many other clothing specialists given that over half of its sales are taken online, Next is wise to reopen its website now its warehouse staff can work safely, and childrenswear is the most logical product area to offer first given that the shorter lifespans of products continue to drive replacement purchases. We expect this to be the best performing subsector within clothing & footwear this year as demand for adult clothing falls significantly.

“Other clothing players that quickly closed their e-commerce operations to safeguard employees’ health should consider whether they can follow in Next’s footsteps by making their distribution centres safe to work in. There will be much less demand for some of the formal and occasionwear brands that have closed their online sites such as Moss Bros, Quiz and Paul Smith but others such as River Island and TK Maxx sell products that shoppers will want to buy such as loungewear, homewares and childrenswear.”