Sainsbury's has been accused of exploiting a loophole to keep Argos outlets open during the UK lockdown.
Under government restrictions, all non-essential shops have been closed for the past week. As supermarkets are an exception, Argos concessions within Sainsbury's shops remain open.
But workers fear health risks and customers said they should be shut.
Sainsbury's said people can only buy items at the in-store Argos outlets if they have already paid for them online.
"Like many other online retailers, we are 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."
The government has published a list of which essential shops can remain open during the pandemic, but it has not imposed any restrictions on which products can be sold within those stores.
But many stores have taken action. Health and beauty chain Boots, for example, has kept its stores open for pharmaceutical goods, but has closed its in-store beauty and fragrance counters.
Marks & Spencer has kept its food halls open to customers, but closed down its clothing and home operations after the government said non-essential shops must close.
Book chain Waterstones has also closed its 280 shops across the UK, but has kept its warehouse open to service online deliveries.
Chief executive James Daunt said books were an important resource for people who were self isolating and also to help with people's mental wellbeing.
"This doesn't seem unimportant.
"I realise many other retailers say they are essential. I think we can so with more credibility than most," he told Radio 4's Today Programme.
Which stores are allowed to stay open?
The government has issued a list of which "essential" retailers are allowed to stay open. They include:
- Supermarkets and other food shops
- Petrol stations
- Bicycle shops
- Home and hardware stores
- Laundrettes and dry cleaners
- Pet shops
- Post Offices
Businesses are still able to take online orders and deliver items to people's homes.
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."
'Don't get paid'
Another Argos employee tweeted: "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, Beau Wood, tweeted: "People are travelling all over to pick up Nintendo Switch consoles and trampolines, most are not picking up ESSENTIALS in Sainsbury's either, just using Argos, enticing people out when they should be at home."
Yeah fair enough of we were all feeding the nation but we are not, people are travelling all over to pick up Nintendo switch consoles and trampolines, most are not picking up ESSENTIALS in sainsburys either just using argos 😡 enticing people out when they should be at home.— Beau wood (@Beauwood1) March 31, 2020
It is not just employees who are frustrated. Accountant, Sarah Robinson tweeted that she was "disgusted" that Argos had kept some of its outlets open.
Im not an employee and am disgusted that not all stores are closing regardless of where they are! Not an essential service, just a profit grabbing selfish act 😡— Sarah Robinson (@SarahLou773) March 24, 2020
How many Argos stores are open?
There are now 300 Argos concessions inside Sainsbury's stores and these remain open on a click-and-collect basis.
"While our Argos stores in Sainsbury's supermarkets are still open, we've temporarily closed our in-store pay points," said a statement on the Argos website.
"You can still arrange to pick up your order in person, but you'll need to have already paid for it online."
Argos added: "We would strongly encourage you to order items for home delivery and to only collect whilst doing your essential food shopping at Sainsbury's."