The coronavirus, COVID-19 is the main lead in all the news, justifiably so as the figures flash up on our phone screens, each day rising, those infected and those who unfortunately die from the virus. Some people are dismissing it as panic, others are talking about stockpiling in case of imposed isolation. As I write, my husband has colleagues in isolation, a few pupils at the boys’ schools are self-isolating having travelled from infected areas over half term and the schools are sending out NHS and Public Health England information on infected areas, symptoms and how to wash your hands. Whether you are flippant about the future possibilities or panicking, one thing we can say is it is affecting retail and possibly will have longer issues for a while to come.
As a small business we do try to encourage and embrace products that are made in the UK, we even have a menu dedicated to such gifts which you can visit by clicking here. Unfortunately, although we purchase from suppliers in the UK for our personalised products, many do come China, and with the current situation, supplies, if not out of stock have gone up approximately 15%. We are currently planning on keeping to our current pricing but are reviewing weekly.
We are not the only retail company to be concerned. Amazon have announced that they are worried about sourcing enough stock for Amazon Prime Day. Primark has issued a supply warning about possible clothing shortages and are currently in talking to suppliers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey and eastern Europe, although some items like accessories are harder to source outside of China. ASOS, Next and Halfords have also expressed concerns about supplies. Shopping centres like Bicester who rely on the tourists are also noticing a difference to the numbers.
Supermarkets are preparing for more online food delivery orders as people avoid mingling with others over the dairy aisle. I would not be surprised if they also plan to increase delivery charges for these orders as the last set of figures I read suggest that the majority of food delivery orders are made at a loss to the supermarket and it is done more to encourage brand loyalty.
How can we, as a small company, protect ourselves for a possible pandemic? It’s a tough one, if we try to buy in stock now, essentially stockpiling, we not only are paying for the 15% increase, we then have to pay for storage of increased stock (pallets of mugs are not easy to tuck away!), and then the increase in insurance to store large amounts of stock. We can’t swallow those costs easily in advance and even if we did it would be resulting in a price hike; how much would someone really be willing to pay for a personalised mug? Exactly! Diversifying would be our best line of defence, embracing more home-grown crafts and ignoring the popular personalisation gifts until such time that things settle down. Unlike many situations where I do enjoy a good planning session, this is going to be a week by weeks assessment on how best to progress.
Meanwhile, as a family, the new mantra shouted at all members that come through the door is to wash their hands and to keep looking for a bottle or two of the elusive hand sanitisers!