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Net-a-Porter Shutters US Online Site as COVID-19 Threatens E-Commerce

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If more e-commerce retailers go the way of Net-a-Porter, the so dubbed homebody economy won’t prove the offset fashion had hoped for in the time of coronavirus.

On Wednesday, in light of the impacts from COVID-19, the luxury e-tailer said it’s closing its virtual doors.

Customers visiting the U.S. site of the U.K.-based business are now met with a message that reads: “In line with local government guidelines, and for the health and safety of our community, we have temporarily closed our warehouse. We hope you are all staying safe and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”

All functionality on the site has been suspended, too, so window shopping for future buys isn’t an option either.

Mr. Porter, the men’s counterpart site also owned by parent Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (YNAP), has a matching message on its U.S. platform. The U.K. sites for both brands remain operational, albeit with coronavirus caveats. In the FAQ section of the Net-a-Porter site, the luxury purveyor has taken to answering questions about delivery safety, responding: “When delivering orders and collecting returns, our drivers are regularly washing their hands and carrying hand sanitizer. We are monitoring their health and wellbeing so they are able to do their job to the highest standard. Our fleet of vans are also being disinfected daily, and deep cleaned once a week to maintain upmost cleanliness.” On whether shoppers will still receive their packages, both sites say: “Please be assured that we are monitoring the situation very closely and will be in touch if there is any update to your order, exchange or refund.”

There were no additional details given as to the reasons for the warehouse closure or the timeline for the temporary shutter, and YNAP could not expound. The company has distribution centers in New Jersey.

Even e-commerce giant Amazon was forced to close a warehouse facility in Queens after a worker there tested positive for coronavirus, but operations were back underway the next day after what the company said was “additional sanitization.” The virus seems to be coming for more of the company’s warehouses, though. As many as 10 Amazon facilities have reportedly had workers test positive for the virus, so the company could be facing more closures ahead. Already, new demands have forced Amazon to focus on shipping need-to-have items.

“We’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies,” company CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a message to staff Saturday. That means shoppers will be hard pressed—even if they were inclined to do so—to make apparel purchases from the e-commerce giant.

Reformation, the sustainable women’s fashion brand with a major online presence and just 17 stores across the U.S., hasn’t shuttered its online offering, but it has already closed its Los Angeles warehouse under the city’s safer-at-home order.

For now, the company is still telling consumers: “You can shop as much as you want on our website, but shipping will be delayed until we are able to reopen our distribution center.”

Projections had pegged e-commerce as the life vest for an industry that has been navigating increasingly rough waters since COVID-19 reached pandemic proportions and started the wave of infectious closures, crackdowns and cancellations that are crippling the sector, forcing layoffs and furloughs with an uncertain end. Now the idle time desperate retailers were hoping homebound consumers would spend perusing loungewear to purchase may not be spent shopping at all if the virus continues to force closures at warehouses and precludes e-commerce companies from shipping wares.

In China, where the rebound from coronavirus is already underway, residents who are more homebound than they had been before are shopping with their extra time.

“Although home quarantine restricts people from going out, it makes staying at home a new way of life and thus boosts the ‘homebody economy,’ Justin Sargent, president of Nielsen China said in a recent study by the research company on the homebody economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Online shopping, online education and working from home have developed rapidly. As such, consumers have quickly adapted to the situation in order to meet daily needs such as staying safe or for shopping, as well as for personal leisure,” Sargent said.

In the U.S., the saga may not shake out similarly if more e-tailers take to locking down their logistics in line with their staff. And as consumers face layoffs and uncertainty, non-essential shopping could fall to the backburner, as will the businesses offering it. What’s more, e-commerce can’t bear the full brunt of carrying fashion through this crisis.

According to data from Statista, retail e-commerce revenues from apparel, footwear and accessories amounted to $103.1 billion last year, and growth is expected up nearly 20 percent to $123.7 billion—though those are pre COVID-19 projections. Still, the entire apparel sector won’t be able to rely online fashion sales, which were only expected to account for 23 percent of revenue this year.

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