The streets of St. Helier are quieter than normal, as so many of the larger local firms are still asking their staff to work from home.
But with the schools beginning to go back, that might be changing, which is good news for retailers who have opened their doors, and so incurred their usual costs, but with a reduced flow of customers coming through them.
Many have turned to the internet to find their customers, quickening an existing trend which has been changing retail for years.
In the next of our series, which first featured in Connect Magazine, on how the different economic sectors might recover in 2020 from the effect of covid-19, today we get two perspectives from the world of retail...
Retail + supply - Daphne East, Chair of the Chamber, Retail and Supply Committee
"Since 14th March nothing has been the same. Normal isn’t what we thought was normal, and everyone is talking about the ‘new normal’. The Retail and Supply industries have been hit hard overnight.
Food retail has seen a massive increase in demand, while consumers are under lock down; some wholesalers have diversified their business to now offer home deliveries, while non-food retail has either mothballed or launched online platforms and home deliveries.
The supply chain has been hit by reduced supply of goods, with manufacturing sites closed down, or running on reduced capacity, causing shortages for our customers.
The next 12 months will see the fittest survive, and unfortunately the businesses that cannot diversify may not be here. These changes will be driven by the consumer, and if they feel safe shopping in store again. Retail stores have made every effort to ensure the safety of their staff and customers throughout this pandemic.
The current way we work may remain, as more and more businesses work from home, as this has proven efficient from an administrative point of view. It has reduced congestion, and improved the environment. However, service industries like retail and supply are face-to-face with the customer / consumer, and this requires careful planning and risk assessments.
The biggest question is will consumers want to shop in bricks and mortar stores in 12 months’ time, or have they adjusted to increased online shopping since March? Our local postal service has recently confirmed our worst fears, that the April Amazon parcel volume is more that November and December 2019 combined. This, combined with government delays in reducing or removing the ‘de minimus’ from incoming goods is not supporting the local retail sector.
This pandemic has also opened our eyes even further to food security in the island, and how reliant we are on the UK supply chain. What can government do to support local agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturers to ‘future-proof’ our local supply? A strategic plan incorporating all these sectors of local industry is key at this time."
Retail Case Study - By Steve Jewell, Managing Director, Romerils
"Contemplating how this year, and the short-term future, will pan out is the most difficult set of forecasting I’ve ever had to work on. Fortunately, I’ve got some bright colleagues, so collaboration has very much been the essence of getting constructive, balanced, forward thinking to bring us out of this crisis and back to future success.
The most important aspect of any future prosperity of Romerils is 100% reliant on the amazing teams and colleagues we have. First and foremost, keeping them safe, but also financially secure is paramount. To date we are managing to do both, and they have all been so fantastic in reciprocating this support to the business and management, while coping with their own personal challenges.
We know there will be a future, and prosperity, but it is about managing the uncertainty and unknown timescales that Covid-19 delivers, then positioning the business as best we can to maximise opportunities when they return.
Because some of our business was still operating to service parts of the construction industry that has been operating under tight controls, we still had most of our management available and working. After the initial flurry of crisis management, and settling down, with the aid of video conferencing we moved quickly onto planning for the future.
As we did this, so much was changing and so fast, regularly rendering contingency and medium terms plans out-of-date, but we have settled on what we believe is a prudent set of forecasts for 2020 & 2021. At present, our view is that the second quarter of this year will be the most CV-19 affected one, and will wreck the unaffected first quarter. Then for the second half of the year, it’s about surviving through tough trading conditions, until we learn more about how the economy will be affected globally, nationally and locally.
‘Comeback’ infers we will return to what some call normal, or the new normal, but instead why not strive for an ‘improved normal’? What the last few months has shown us is that life and business can be so unpredictable, so look for better ways of operating, and build resilience where possible.
I’ve lost count of how many management and board meetings I’ve been in with video conferencing, but we will not return to the less efficient traditional meetings, with so many hours wasted. With screen sharing, ability to run live surveys, and effectively being face-to-face, we will also have better attendance because of remote availability. I believe hundreds of invaluable management hours can now be redeployed to more valuable business activity and opportunities.
Another example is how we are now communicating, and doing business, with our customers. For example, within four weeks of the lockdown in Jersey, some of my colleagues had launched a brand-new website, will full transacting capabilities, and offering the service of us planning new bathrooms and kitchens remotely.
Again, while we really want customers to come to our showroom for the ‘retail experience,’ I believe this will also become the ‘improved normal,’ and how we will continue to use technology going forward.
While embracing online business and interacting, we still strongly believe conventional retail, certainly in our sector, has a future - but all retailers must hold firm to what will be valued by Jersey customers. This hasn’t, and will never, change: service.
It really is about going the extra mile, and giving customers a great shopping experience, so they want to come back.
While this pandemic is awful in so many ways, it has given us all the opportunity of reflecting on our lives and business models, changing out of necessity, looking for improvements and finding opportunities. Let’s learn and not go back to ‘normal’."
Tomorrow, we'll be focusing on people and skills, and working practices.