Fashion giants Next and TK Maxx have closed their warehouses and stopped taking online orders to protect staff from the coronavirus pandemic.

Next and TK Maxx are the latest retailers to cease online operations as employee concerns and trade union opposition has grown about warehouse working conditions, such as staff proximity and exposure to the risk of infection. Yesterday, River Island said it would shut its online business for the time being.

The closure of online operations removes the last operating sales channel for the retailers, but reflects their determination to put their people first in the event that colleagues may be concerned about working conditions or practices.

Next said it has “listened very carefully to its colleagues working in warehousing and distribution operations to fulfil online orders” and concluded: “It is clear that many increasingly feel they should be at home in the current climate. Next has therefore taken the difficult decision to temporarily close its online, warehousing and distribution operations from this evening, Thursday March 26, 2020. Next will not be taking any more online orders after this time until further notice.”

A message on TK Maxx’s website said: “As the situation has unfolded, we think it is necessary to stop taking orders online… We are sorry for any inconvenience but our priority is the wellbeing of our associates and their families.”

Trade union Usdaw welcomed Next’s decision. National officer Mark Todd said: “Online retail relies on people working in warehouses, distribution centres and delivering to residential addresses. Social distancing is very difficult in all these situations and yet many non-food purchases will not be essential. We called on the government to ensure that workers are protected and the risks are minimised by restricting non-essential online retail.

“Today we welcome Next moving ahead of any government intervention and doing the right thing by its staff and the wider community.”