2 Dec 2021
This week: December, it’s here. (And so is a new variant).
Just when you thought we were home free… OMIGOD, Omicron.
Although, this ain’t retail’s first rodeo. Remember? Round about this time last year, Delta reared its ugly head.
• Shopping? Masking up is back. What’s being “strongly encouraged” in U.S. cities like NYC is being required across the UK. “The first response from retailers was this would lead to a lot of abuse from people refusing to wear face coverings,” said a spokesperson for The Association of Convenience Stores, which represents thousands of independent shopkeepers in the UK. Just how widespread has that abuse been? 92% of retail staff have dealt with some rude person’s opinions about mask wearing.
• For small businesses – especially those with Bounce Back Loans to repay – the holiday season sales stakes are high. So dealing with covidiots is nothing compared to the prospect of another lockdown – which has so far been ruled out by both Johnson and Biden. “I think retail has had such a tough time over the past two years, that if mask wearing means we avoid another lockdown or people feel more secure coming into the shop, then I’m all for it,” John Bright, founder of The Good Neighbour, told the BBC. “I understand that some people disagree, but we really, really don’t want to go into another lockdown, so for us it’s important that everyone follows the rules so we can stay open,” said Rebecca Morter, founder of Lone Design Club and an Appear Here regular. “Anything that helps prevent the variant and keep the virus [from] spreading is a good thing.”
• “Can retail move more quickly than Omicron?” questioned (rhetorically) RetailWire. The good news is, with two years’ worth of pandemic experience under its belt, it might not have to. “Having already had one Christmas where we brought in measures to minimise pinch points for customers during the peak trading period, we feel well prepared,” said Tom Newey, CEO of Cobbs Farm Shop.
What do the experts think? “From wave to wave, the economic damage has lessened,” one economist told The Financial Times.
These are uncertain times, but there are proven safety measures that can be put back in place. In the age of corona, we’ll take déjà vu any day.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming, though.
There are three weeks left until Christmas. How are retailers faring during the most wonderful (and stressful) time of the year?
• Although 85% of indies didn’t take part in this year’s Black Friday bonanza, we’re suckers for the data insights. That proverbial plastic? It got a workout, with the UK seeing the biggest sales on record. “People are going back to more in-person experiences,” said Rob Cameron, CE of Barclaycard Payments. Foot traffic was also way up in the States, new variants be damned. “People are tired of doing things remotely… they would like to be together doing those things in person,” said Mathew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.
• All signs point to a busy shopping season, but businesses are still dealing with the knock-on effects of supply chain shortages. Some have even resorted to building stockpiles of inventory. “Usually, we get through the New York City Marathon and then we stop buying shoes… But we’re being told not to do that because there’s just not going to be any shoes,” said Megan Searfoss, who has been “hoarding” sneakers for her two running stores. “People, those days before Christmas, will be buying whatever they can from whatever local store they can.” Shortages aren’t just for sneakers, though. There’s even a dearth of mall Santas. “Is Santa Claus Coming to Town? Maybe Not. Blame the Labor Shortage,” ran a headline in The Wall Street Journal.
• Worries around shipping delays are widespread, and nearly two-thirds of U.S. shoppers are planning on purchasing gifts from brick-and-mortar stores. “With supply chain shortages front-of-mind for shoppers, the key trend this holiday season is the growth in hybrid shopping as consumers look for inventory both in America and across other Western markets,” reported Vogue Business. 60% of global digital sales will be “influenced by visits to physical stores,” according to Salesforce. And the interest in supporting small businesses, on the rise since lockdown 1.0, is still a thing.
Why? It’s pretty simple, whether you’re shopping in Lima or Leeds. “A joy to browse in, independent shops are the lifeblood of many of our high streets,” noted The Guardian.
“If you’re hoping to find something unexpected and delightful, you’ll need to go to the little local shops that have survived in the age of online shopping by being quirky and brave,” wrote Margaret Renkl in The New York Times. “And by knowing their customers well enough to say, ‘I think you would love this.’”
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.