Australia’s online retailers have established a COVID-19 war room hosted in Slack to share plans and ideas to keep staff safe and businesses operational during the rapidly evolving coronavirus outbreak.

Established late last week by Kate Morris, the founder and CEO of Adore Beauty, the channel now has 114 members.

“I’d been thinking last week as the COVID-19 situation has escalated, we are all in unprecedented territory here and in times like this we need to be able to collaborate and support each other,” Morris told Which-50 this morning.

“I got an email from Sarah Timmerman [CEO of online retailer Beginning Boutique] on Friday morning, suggesting a call with five other retailers, which sparked the thought in my mind that really we needed to expand the discussion and provide a support group of sorts for the entire industry.”

Morris said Slack was selected because Adore Beauty already uses the collaboration tool and she was familiar with it.

For retailers in the channel so far the discussion has centred around protecting their teams and minimising risk, supply issues, how to maintain business continuity and what might happen in future, Morris said.

The coronavirus pandemic presents a number of challenges for retailers. Early in the outbreak, China’s lockdown meant supply chains were affected. As the virus spread outside Mainland China, panic buying led to unprecedented demand and stock shortages and, in the past week retailers have had to reassess their operations to keep their staff and customers safe.

For example, beauty retailer Mecca informed customers on Friday that it will be cancelling it’s in-store makeup services until March 31.

Deliveroo this morning announced it has rolled out a new feature to enable customers and riders to choose contact-free delivery when they order from the food delivery company’s app and website. Last week, Deliveroo announced a ‘hardship fund’ for riders, so those who contract the COVID-19 virus or those who have been instructed to be in isolation by a medical authority will be eligible for financial support.

While some European countries have already forced stores and restaurants to close, around the world some retailers have voluntarily closed stores and promised to pay employees for lost wages due to closures or quarantine measures.

In the US, outdoor retailer Patagonia announced on Friday it is closing all retail locations for the rest of the month while continuing to pay its staff. Nike and Apple have also announced widespread store closures around the globe.

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