How retailers are coping with the ease of restrictions
How retailers are coping with the ease of restrictions – now that society is beginning its gradual return to normality, more businesses are now able to open, and with fewer restrictions – but what impact is this having on retail businesses?
At the time of writing, 70% of Irish adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 85% have received their first dose. With these numbers increasing daily, restrictions are now very much easing up and Ireland is cautiously beginning its gradual return to some kind of normality.
Staffing the return to full-scale services
Although many retailers and retail staff, particularly in the grocery and pharmacy sectors, have continued to operate as usual throughout the pandemic, with some even reporting an increase in sales, many businesses who were forced to close or reduce their staffing levels are now faced with a new set of difficulties in returning to full operations.
Most businesses are by now well set up from a safety perspective, however, securing a full scale workforce is proving difficult for some as they begin their reopening plan, despite there being almost 400,000 people being registered for the Pandemic Employment Payment.
Some retailers are finding they must currently operate on reduced hours, or with a skeleton workforce while trying to recruit staff at the same time as every other retailer.
Adequate staffing levels is proving difficult due to a number of factors. Some people have sought more secure employment elsewhere due to the uncertainty of retail and hospitality, or have been out of the workforce for a long time and used the downtime to retrain or return to study. Others have restructured their lives and decided to reduce their hours permanently, or not return to the workplace at all.
Under their Economic Recovery Plan, the government will begin to reduce the Pandemic Employment Payment incrementally for staff that were affected in their workplace, but this is not expected to come to a close until 2022.
It seems the long-suffering retail industry will continue to face personnel and financial challenges over the coming months, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
As government support schemes for both individuals and businesses begin to wind down, and as many more adults, particularly young adults who were the last to be invited to the vaccine programme, become fully vaccinated there will gradually be more and more people ready and willing to return to the workplace.
The trend has been to remind your customers to be patient and kind to your staff while teams see out these difficult days, and it may even serve as an opportunity to reconnect with your customers, a reminder that we are all human and doing our best under trying circumstances.
Recruitment difficulties within the retail industry are not the only staffing issues that are impacting retailers at this time. Geographic location is also playing a significant role, as the staffing of other local businesses can have a huge knock-on effect on the footfall of some of the local stores that serve them.
Those food businesses and convenience stores based in city centres and business centres are having a particularly hard time, as the working model for office based staff in Ireland continues to be mainly one of working from home.
This is set to continue on a permanent basis as many Irish officed-based businesses suggest they will adopt an ongoing working-from-home or hybrid staffing plan. Current research suggests that just 20% of professionals want to return to the office full time.
The changing landscape of the workplace
With the government also working on new legislation to this effect, retailers based in industrial areas and business centres may need to find new approaches in the future to remain viable, and compensate for the loss of traditional income generated from coffee runs and that all important lunchtime footfall.
New angles on existing ideas can be the easiest to implement, such as partnering with a store delivery service to get your products moving locally or the creation of a webshop to offer an online, nationwide service.
This is particularly effective when offered in conjunction with a niche product or service. Consider, for example, teaming up with small local suppliers and offering deliveries of unique local goods and produce nationwide.
The ‘shop local’ movement
For stores based in local communities, particularly in rural areas, the good news is it seems that the pandemic and Brexit led momentum for shopping locally is still going strong, as discussed in this survey undertaken by the Irish Times:
It is expected that even as the world begins to reopen, shoppers will continue to remain loyal to the faces behind those local stores fronts that have taken care of them over the past 18 months of on and off lockdowns, and high customer retention is expected.
Increased disposable income
On a further positive note, as shopping centres, hospitality and entertainment reopens, shoppers are expected to be out in force over the summertime.
With the majority of the adult population now vaccinated, and Irish households having saved billions during the pandemic, there is a lot more disposable income now available to be put back into the Irish economy – and research suggests frustrated shoppers are ready to get out and spend.
The general mood for retailers is to continue to weather the storm over the coming months. Despite the current uncertainty regarding both internal and external staffing levels, the situation is improving on an almost daily basis.
Some businesses have been luckier than others, being in the right industry or the right location, but all have become familiar with implementing rapid changes and so the retail sector is once again coping with the ease of restrictions, as adapting to remain successful is well within most retailers’ comfort zone now.
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About the author
Susan McGuire has worked with Retail Solutions for 5 years in administration and marketing, and has over 20 years’ experience within service industries. You can follow her on LinkedIn!