Sainsbury's accused of exploiting 'loophole' to keep Argos open

General view of the entrance to a Sainsbury's supermarket, incorporating a Lloyds Pharmacy and an Argos store, in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Some 300 Argos concessions inside Sainsbury's stores remain open. (Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

Sainsbury's (SBRY.L) has been accused of exploiting a loophole to keep Argos outlets in its stores open during the UK coronavirus lockdown.

As supermarkets are allowed to remain open as “essential shops”, Sainsbury's has kept Argos concessions within stores open.

But workers are concerned about the health risks involved and customers said they should be closed.

Sainsbury's said the in-store Argos outlets are only open on a “click-and-collect” basis, with customers only able to buy items they have already paid for online.

The store claims it is selling “essential products for the millions of people now living and working entirely from home”.

A Sainsbury's spokesperson told the BBC: “This includes products for the home office, for educating and entertaining children and for adults to stay fit and entertained at home.

“We are then strongly advising customers to have these delivered to their homes. We also have an option to collect from Sainsbury's supermarkets while doing an essential food shop.”

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Under government restrictions, all non-essential shops have been closed for the past week in the battle to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Some 300 Argos concessions inside Sainsbury's stores remain open.

One unnamed worker, quoted in evidence published by the House of Commons business select committee, said: “Argos is currently using the loophole of having stores in a supermarket [Sainsbury's] to continue to trade as normal, despite virtually everything being sold being non-essential in the current crisis.

“Paddling pool, play sand, wardrobes, TVs, video games and console, all non-essential. As the standalone stores are closed, this is driving huge numbers of people to gather in their stores, to the point where people are queuing across the whole Sainsbury's.

“They are actively encouraging, on their website, people to go and buy these non-essential items in these stores.

“They are also forcing all Argos workers from their closed standalone stores, to go and work in the stores that are still trading, or a local Sainsbury's, rather than allowing them to stay at home (where the government says they should be).

“If they refuse, they are being sent home without pay and refused furlough. These actions are surely going to undermine the government's plans to contain this pandemic, leading to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of vulnerable people.”

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Several employees took to Twitter to voice their concerns, with one worker tweeting: “Argos is making us standalone store workers go to Argos in Sainsbury's stores which are still open or work in the delivery hub or we DON'T GET PAID.

“For me this means public transport, further increasing my risk.”

Another employee accused the company of “enticing people out when they should be at home” and said: “Most people are not picking up ESSENTIALS in Sainsbury’s either just using Argos”.

“While our Argos stores in Sainsbury's supermarkets are still open, we've temporarily closed our in-store pay points,” Argos said in a statement on its website.

“You can still arrange to pick up your order in person, but you'll need to have already paid for it online.”

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Argos said: “We would strongly encourage you to order items for home delivery and to only collect whilst doing your essential food shopping at Sainsbury's.”

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