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Products seen under ‘essential’ sections on online retail stores.
Products seen under ‘essential’ sections on online retail stores.

BusinessApril 6, 2020

The growing list of ‘essential products’ you can order under lockdown

Products seen under ‘essential’ sections on online retail stores.
Products seen under ‘essential’ sections on online retail stores.

Since the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment relaxed the rules around the supply of essential non-food items last week, more businesses are announcing that their online stores are up and running. Some things, however, are not what leaps to mind as ‘essential’.

Under the new policy allowing essential non-food items to be supplied, MBIE gives examples like heaters and blankets, stating that essential goods should keep people warm and maintain people’s health. However, because it also concedes that it it “is difficult to be prescriptive about what an essential product is” some retailers have been interpreting the rules liberally, with everything from penis pumps to $759 cashmere robes becoming available in the “essential” sections of various online stores.

Beard trimmers, coffee machines and nutribullets have been added to the essential goods lists at Noel Leeming and Briscoes, while up until Saturday adult store Peaches and Cream was offering “essential” vibrators and a range of other toys on its online store. The website has now changed to say that orders cannot be shipped until after lockdown.

The website of a former essential goods provider on 4 April

Meanwhile, clothing retailers are operating under the responsibility to “keep people warm”, with the likes of Hallensteins, Farmers, Glassons and Postie now offering a range of winter essentials from Boyfriend Tees to Kombat Jogger Chinos.

“We can now provide you essential winter clothing and accessories online with contactless delivery. Strict health and safety guidelines as advised by the government are being adhered to to ensure the safety of our staff and customers are our top priority,” Hallensteins said in an email.

Smaller, boutique stores such as Good as Gold in Wellington are also launching their winter wardrobes after qualifying as providers of essential goods. In an Instagram post, Queenstown clothing boutique Elle + Riley Cashmere said it would be shipping online orders from Monday. “We have registered with MBIE and are approved to sell our cashmere online,” the post said. “The days are getting colder and we want to ensure you stay cosy and stay home.”

Elle + Riley Cashmere’s Instagram post

The store, which sells high-end cashmere clothing, said that approval was granted on the basis that MBIE has deemed essential goods to cover products that keep people warm. Co-founder Elle Pugh told The Spinoff the company had registered with MBIE through a reasonable process, and after getting approval had limited their available range to products they had deemed essential.

The essential products at Elle and Riley consist of cashmere garments ranging in price from $99 for socks to $759 for a robe. “We have also had to register this approved data (approval number etc) to our courier services,” said Pugh. “Like many other brands who are able to ship, we manufacture woollen products.”

MBIE spokesperson Chris Baylis told The Spinoff that warm clothes were likely to be considered essential in the lead-up to winter.

Coffee companies have also been allowed to resume shipping online orders, with both Kōkako Organic Coffee Roasters and Coffee Supreme announcing that their online stores were back up and running earlier this week. “Yesterday evening we also contacted MBIE directly and were given assurance that providing we were following the strict MPI procedures around ‘bubble management’, health and safety procedures and MPI registration, we could resume looking after our online customers,” Coffee Supreme said in an email to customers on Thursday.

Coffee is one of the categories listed on the site Delivereat, which highlights “independent Kiwi businesses delivering during the Covid-19 lockdown”. It lists more than 400 outlets, with categories ranging from ready meals to personal hygiene.

According to MBIE’s essential service criteria, these businesses must adhere to strict rules and can only provide essential non-food consumer products provided they do so in a way that protects the public and minimises the risk of Covid-19 spreading. Orders must be taken online or by phone only and businesses must provide personal protective equipment for staff and ensure physical distancing and hygiene basics are observed. Businesses must also inform MBIE of their intention to offer essential non-food products for sale, and provide a list of the products they intend to offer.

The managing director of another company that has been allowed to expand online operations said that MBIE approval operated on a “trust basis” where a business had to provide a list of the goods they thought were essential. If successful, MBIE would respond with approval, but also said it would be removed if there were any breaches in the criteria. “They basically say if you’re not sensible we’re going to come down on you,” he said. “They’re doing it on a trust basis, which I think is actually really good, because most people seem to be taking this really seriously.”

Some businesses have resisted the temptation to ship goods, in the name of flattening the curve. Alchemy Equipment announced on Facebook that its “Pure Merino Essentials” were not for order.

“Well, here’s the thing, this is just a name. They are beautifully made, cosy, stylish and very desirable, but in truth, not actually essential in the bigger sense. So we are taking a bigger view and asking our web order team to stay at home. So, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for your orders. We believe it’s for the best.”

The store has instead launched a promotion where customers use a coupon for a 10% discount and items will be shipped once the level four lockdown ends.

“Good things come to those who wait. Use the coupon ICANWAIT and an additional 10% discount will be applied across your shopping cart, which we will send when the time is right. Look after each other,” the post said.

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