Explainer: What is going on with click-and-collect services?

Retailers claim current classification of essential retail goods is ‘fast becoming obsolete’

A sign advertising an online click-and-collect shopping service  at a Tesco store.

A sign advertising an online click-and-collect shopping service at a Tesco store.

 

Retailers have called for the “immediate reintroduction” of click-and-collect services, claiming that the current classification of essential and non-essential retail goods is “fast becoming obsolete”.

During the second lockdown in October and November, non-essential retailers were allowed to sell online as well as offer a so-called click-and-collect service, which is where customers can order products online before later collecting them from the store.

It allowed many smaller retailers who did not have the capacity for full online delivery services to continue to trade through November.

However, with Covid-19 case numbers surging at the end of December, non-essential retail was forced to close for the third time in less than a year on January 6th, and the Government decided not to allow the click-and-collect model so as to reduce movement and travel as much as possible.

It was felt that by taking that option off the table it would stop people driving to retail and town centres to pick up ordered goods and would reduce the movement of people in the community.

There has been confusion among some retailers in relation to what is deemed essential. For example, Marks & Spencer claimed in January it needed further clarification from the Government before reviewing its click-and-collect service covering non-essential items.

The retailer had been allowing customers shop online for clothes, homewares and more before collecting them at particular stores since the start of the Level 5 lockdown in an apparent contravention of guidelines.

When asked why it had continued to offer the service, a company spokeswoman told The Irish Times at the time that it was an “essential retailer”.

‘Lines blurred’

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar suggested earlier this month that there could be a return to click-and-collect shopping for non-essential retail if and when restrictions are eased on April 5th, although other Government figures downplayed the possibility.

Ahead of Government talks on the matter, Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, said on Tuesday: “Retailers large and small are frustrated and angry at the complete lack of clarity from the Government on a reopening plan for retail.

“The length and scale of this lockdown now means that the lines between essential and non-essential retail are completely blurred, and the classification as it currently stands is fast becoming obsolete.

“Click-and-collect can help solve this issue: it is also safe, does not lead to mass movement of people as it is largely confined to local shopping, and it provides a much-needed lifeline for businesses, particularly SMEs, who are in dire need of assistance.”

He said that the Government could no longer stand over its original classification of retail goods.

“How can you tell a parent whose child has outgrown their clothes and shoes that these goods are not essential? The Government needs to address this issue by reintroducing click-and-collect services as a matter of urgency.”

He added: “Once click-and-collect services are reintroduced, we must see a defined timeline for the reopening of the industry, which should include appointment-only shopping, the reopening of larger centres such as garden centres and furniture stores, and eventually the full reopening of retail.”

What outlets are deemed essential retail?

According to Government guidelines, essential retail covers outlets selling food or beverages on a takeaway basis, or newspapers; as well as outlets selling products necessary for the essential upkeep and functioning of places of residence and businesses.

Pharmacies, chemists, opticians, optometrist outlets, and retailers providing pharmaceuticals or pharmaceutical or dispensing services are also considered essential, along with outlets selling health, medical or orthopaedic goods, including hearing test services or hearing aids and appliances.

Furthermore, fuel service stations and heating fuel providers are considered essential, along with outlets selling essential items for the health and welfare of animals; laundries and drycleaners; banks post offices and credit unions; and outlets selling safety supplies.

Hardware outlets, builders’ merchants and outlets that provide products necessary for home and business maintenance or construction and development, sanitation and farm equipment, or supplies and tools essential for farming or agriculture purposes are considered essential.

Elsewhere, outlets providing for the repair and maintenance of mechanically propelled vehicles or bicycles are also considered essential, along with outlets selling office products and services for businesses or for relevant persons working from home.

Outlets providing electrical, information and communications technology and telephone sales, repair and maintenance services for places of residence and businesses are also considered essential, along with any other retail outlet that operates an online or other remote system of ordering goods for purposes of delivery only.

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