The current COVID-19 situation in Australia is an uncertain one, with many states and territories under varying levels of lockdown and restrictions, and multiple borders closed.
As has been the case for the past 18 months, off-premise retail has remained an essential business that is allowed to stay open during these times. However there is currently a wide and varied range of regulation that applies to the industry nation wide.
Considering this, National Liquor News checked in with some industry leaders to see how they were navigating the current pandemic challenges.
Paul Esposito, CEO of Independent Liquor Group (ILG), said the current situation, especially in Greater Sydney, was unexpected but timely considering the infectious speed of the COVID-19 Delta strain. He said the focus for ILG in such uncertainty was to keep communication as open as possible with members.
“We make it our foremost undertaking to bring the members up to date with the regulatory facets and to maintain consistent communication to keep them informed. As part of this process, we ensure to remind them of the guidelines associated with the restrictions that require enforcement,” Esposito told National Liquor News.
“We re-send them the graphics relevant to the COVID-19 safety measures and encourage them to refresh their signboards and ensure visibility of the same in their stores. The initial stage is more about making sure we are compliant to avoid any unnecessary ramifications that may only worsen the situation.”
Although things are moving quickly, ILG is finding ways to keep engaged with members in different areas to make sure they have everything they need in each individual circumstance. This has been possible due to systems put in place over previous lockdowns and restrictions.
“With store visits suspended due to travel restrictions, our sales teams are equipped with various online communication software apart from their smartphones to keep the engagement with members ongoing. This has helped all companies maintain a business as usual approach in times like this,” Esposito said.
“Given the restrictions vary in different states, my team and I have also been in regular contact to keep each other informed and/or cautioned. Each day is reviewed to allow us to keep our service levels at best and at disposal to our members. It’s ensuring more than ever we are more and clearly in tune with our members’ needs.”
For Liquor Marketing Group (LMG), another banner group with members impacted by COVID restrictions in a number of locations, the focus is on helping members deliver the best service for each local customer.
“To minimise the impact of less foot traffic in-store during the latest wave of restrictions, LMG is supporting our members by extending our e-commerce platform and offering free delivery in each state impacted by lockdown to better service customers who are required to be at home,” said Gavin Saunders, CEO of LMG.
In other areas, Independent Liquor Retailers (ILR) is closely monitoring the situation to keep its members informed as they concentrate on serving customers in compliance with current localised restrictions.
ILR General Manager, Corey Leeson, said: “We are just trying to ensure all members are aware of what needs to be done at a store level including their rights and responsibilities. We have been providing regular updates if any changes to the rules or regulations and answering any questions or concerns.”
Michael Waters, CEO of Retail Drinks Australia, gave advice from the organisation about such rights and responsibilities at this time, and reminded retailers that there are materials available through Retail Drinks that can assist.
“The re-emergence of COVID-19 has resulted in a number of changes for liquor retailers, including the compulsory wearing of masks and tightened requirements around the use of QR Codes,” Waters said.
“In many states and territories, the use of QR Codes in retail settings is now mandatory given the highly transmissive nature of the Delta variant. In NSW, for instance, this mandatory requirement is coming into effect on 12 July, however we strongly advise all retailers to have QR Codes in place prior to this date as a best practice measure. We also advise all retailers to operate in accordance with our Social Distancing Guidelines for Retail Liquor Stores to help ensure the safety of their staff and their customers.
“Whilst all liquor retailers should be aware of the requirements as per the various public health orders, they should also be mindful that it is the responsibility of police to enforce these measures against customers who refuse to follow them.
“No staff members deserve aggression or abuse from customers who refuse to follow COVID-19 measures. Even though businesses have the right to refuse service, on some occasions, the best course of action is to protect staff safety and record the measure as a safeguard.”