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How “non-essential” retailers are combatting the Coronavirus

Retail is in a new state of disruption. The culprit: COVID-19. As “non-essential” retailers across Europe and North America have been ordered to close their doors to the public, many fear for their existence. Here are some examples of retailers who have temporarily pivoted their business to help combat the crisis.
COVID-19 Virus

Retail is in a new state of disruption. The culprit this time is not digitalization, but rather COVID-19. As “non-essential” retailers across Europe and North America have been ordered to close their doors to the public, many fear for their existence – especially those who were already struggling before the crisis hit. Of course, many retailers are still generating revenues from their online sales, but this is nowhere near enough to compensate for the loss of revenue from brick-and-mortar. According to Stefan Genth, Managing Director of the German Retail Association, 1.15 billion euros of revenues will be lost every day in the non-food segment in Germany. The scariest part: No one knows when life will return to normal, or what the new “normal” will look like.

Amidst all the panic, fear and uncertainty, we’d like to share some positive news. Here are four examples of retailers and brands who have temporarily pivoted their business to help combat the crisis:

1. LVMH is producing hand sanitizer

LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate, has converted its cosmetics and perfume manufacturing facilities to make alcohol-based sanitizer. The company has pledged to provide the hand sanitizers free of charge to French healthcare authorities and hospitals. This comes at a time when countries across the globe are suffering a shortage of the alcohol-based sanitizers, since they have been recommended by global health authorities as a way to limit the spread of the disease.

The promise was made by LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault on March 14. By Monday March 16, the facilities that normally produce fragrances and cosmetics for Christian Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy had already begun manufacturing, bottling and delivering the gel. How was LVMH able to convert production so fast? The three main ingredients needed for the sanitizer – purified water, ethanol, and glycerine – were already on stock, and the filling machines, plastic bottles and pump dispensers that are normally used for LVMH’s liquid soaps are also suited for sanitizer.

Thus, a company that in normal times sells $60 liquid hand soap, is now churning out free alcohol-based hand sanitizer!

2. Inditex is considering making scrubs

On March 18, Inditex – the owner of Zara – announced that it would donate masks to coronavirus patients and health officials in Spain. It has already donated 10,000 protective face masks and pledged to donate another 300,000 surgical masks. But in addition to making donations, the company is considering the possibility of converting its textile factories to manufacture much-needed hospital gowns. Spanish doctors may soon be the most fashionable doctors out there!

3. Mey is sewing face masks

German bodywear specialist Mey, has begun production of face masks. As demand for underwear has fallen, and demand for protective face masks has suddenly spiked, the retailer realized that it can put its employees to better use. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds – sewing bras and panties is different to sewing a face mask: the material is different, the process is different, the necessary machines are different. Nevertheless, Mey managed to quickly design a reusable face mask and train its seamstresses accordingly.

What’s important to note is that these masks do not fulfill the certification standards for masks needed by doctors treating COVID-19 patients. However, in times when all types of face masks have become suddenly scarce, these masks are highly valuable for patients and healthcare workers not treating Coronavirus patients – thereby freeing up masks for those doctors and nurses at the frontline of the outbreak. Currently Mey is already producing 6,000 masks each day – and plans to further ramp up production. The masks are being delivered to hospitals, doctor’s offices and nursing homes.

4. Decathlon is converting underwater masks into ventilators

Perhaps the most bizarre example of all: Decathlon, the French sporting goods retailer, is redesigning a line of underwater masks to be used as emergency ventilator masks – a critical piece of equipment for Coronavirus patients. These converted masks are intended for hospitals in Italy – one of the countries that has been hit the hardest by the ongoing pandemic. Researchers from The Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems (Isinnova) in Rome designed a new connection between the ventilator and Decathlon’s Easybreath scuba mask. This valve can be 3D printed and a prototype has already been tested in hospital.

To be clear, this is not an ideal solution. It has not been adequately tested nor has it been certified, and therefore it is not going into full-scale production. But in times of emergency, such innovations may be the difference between life and death.

Within a matter of weeks, the Coronavirus has upended life as we know it. While this situation will not last forever, it will last longer than most of us like. Let’s not panic, let’s act. Now is the time to think fast, get creative, and be agile.

We applaud all retailers who have stepped up and are using their skills and resources to help fight the crisis, in any way that they can.

For all the other retailers out there: We know that you are struggling right now. Once you’re ready to get back on your feet, aifora is here to help. Our predictive analytics capabilities enable retailers to accurately forecast demand and act accordingly. When business returns to normal, it will be more crucial than ever to avoid mistakes and quickly regain revenues.

Let’s all pull together and help each other out during these uncertain times!

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Patrick Brüns
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