Sky to open network of high street stores across UK

Sky is to launch a network of high street stores across the UK, saying it wants them to become “social hubs for shoppers”, with the first one opening in Liverpool on Monday despite tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

The plan to start a network of stores, each of which will have a music venue-style “access all areas” stage to host various interactive experiences for customers, comes amid the closure of hundreds of shops as the pandemic takes its toll on the retail sector.

“We are proud to see our shops opening at a challenging time for the UK high street,” said Stephen van Rooyen, the chief executive of Sky UK and Europe. “We’ll bring service, innovation and convenience all in one place, under one roof, at a time when keeping people connected has never been more important.”

The media group said: “All shops will operate in line with the government’s Covid-19 safety measures, including strict social distancing, mandatory face masks and hand sanitiser available across the sho.”

In May, Virgin Media said it would shut its last 53 retail stores and disappear from the UK high street. The cable TV company, which had 140 stores in 2016, said the pandemic had accelerated a shift towards online customer service.

Sky said the stores would differ from those of its rivals, going beyond simply operating as a sales point for its TV, mobile and broadband packages. It wants them to become a new social hub for shoppers.

It plans to launch about five of the stores this year, with further openings in 2021. The shops will also offer a mobile repair service through a partnership with iSmash, the technology repair chain that has 31 stores in 10 UK cities.

Despite the pandemic, there is still demand among customers seeking an in-store experience, particularly as technology becomes more complex and expensive.

Many consumers buying an iPhone for about £1,000 , for example, will want to go further than a website or phone call to make sure they are making the right choice.

Last October, BT launched a revamp its 615 retail stores across the UK using its high street presence to push its goal of being viewed as a British “national champion”. The relaunch of the EE store chain – BT acquired the mobile company for £12.5bn in 2015 – with co-branding marked the first time the BT brand has been on store fronts since 2004.

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PwC stepping down as auditor of Boohoo over governance concerns

PricewaterhouseCoopers is stepping down as auditor of Boohoo’s financial accounts as the fast fashion firm faces scrutiny over malpractice in its supply chain. According to the FT, PwC resigned its role, held since 2014, over concerns about governance at Boohoo.

However, a Boohoo spokesperson said: “PwC has not resigned as auditor to Boohoo, but a process has recently commenced to tender for a new provider of audit services.”

The auditor is stepping down after a damning review, conducted by Alison Levitt QC, that criticised the “weak corporate governance” at Boohoo.

Levitt’s review – commissioned after an investigation by the Guardian revealed evidence that factories in Leicester were putting workers’ health at risk during lockdown and failing to pay them the minimum wage – found that the allegations of poor working practice were were “substantially true”.

Boohoo, the audits and an industry under the spotlight

The brand has pledged a series of reforms, including a move to publish a full list of companies in its supply chain, reducing the number of factories it relies on, and using new, ethical suppliers.

Boohoo has also faced controversy over an executive pay plan that would hand bosses £150m if shares in the online fashion retailer rise by two-thirds over the next three years. Co-founders Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane would each receive £50m, or a third of the payout.

Boohoo is breaking with the UK corporate governance code and electing not to put the plan to a shareholder vote. It says under two different sets of company rules, the QCA corporate governance code and AIM rules, a vote is not necessary.

The latest bonus plan is separate from one that the company created for the chief executive, John Lyttle, when he was poached from Primark in 2018. Lyttle will receive a £50m bonus if the company’s market value hits £5.6bn by 2024.

PwC declined to comment.

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