Retail must be ready to grab all chances on offer in 2022

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Comment by Lorie Rault, head of retail at Jersey Business

AS head of retail at Jersey Business I have daily contact with retail business managers and owners to collate feedback and gather best practice on the key issues and opportunities the industry is facing.

This year, Jersey’s retail sector has again faced significant challenges and we have been proactively supporting businesses to navigate their way through these.

As I reflect on 2021, three in particular stand out as key for retail.

The first remains Covid-19, joined by the new challenges of importing goods post-Brexit and finally a tightening of workforce availability. I have been heartened by the way businesses have faced these challenges with innovation, fortitude, and a ton of optimism.

Jersey started January 2021 with a lockdown of ‘non-essential’ businesses. Although it was not the best start to a trading year, local businesses adapted well to meet the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19 restrictions and we were grateful it was for a much shorter period than for our UK counterparts.

Many businesses we work with were unable to make solid longer-term plans and were affected by depleting funds to invest with or to buy stock for the year ahead. However, the mood was optimistic that shoppers would return and spend the money they had saved.

Further into the year it became evident that those businesses importing goods from and through Europe were being seriously impacted by Brexit.

Everyone had been discussing and preparing for Brexit for some time, but the reality of navigating the new import requirements was proving difficult.

Each business has their own unique stock and delivery process, making the information required different for every business.

Jersey Business quickly gathered the vast amount of technical knowledge needed to support businesses and created a simplified ‘Ten steps to import’ guide for our website.

We held webinars with Customs and Immigration to highlight the key areas that businesses were struggling with and to share best practice.

I have been impressed by the resilience and the ability to innovate shown by many retail managers and owners I work with. They have had to remodel how they ship goods, change what they sell, and understand terms and processes most had never heard of.

The ongoing stress this has caused businesses owners and managers is significant. We will continue to highlight issues, collate guidance, and set up webinars so businesses can access specialist knowledge and share best practice.

The next phase of changes to the customs declarations heads our way in 2022 and we have been working hard to raise awareness of the impact this will bring and how businesses can prepare.

The Springboard footfall figures for St Helier showed a slow return of people into the town centre this year. In June figures were just 37% of 2019 numbers but footfall grew steadily and, by October 2021, footfall numbers had reached 81% of 2019 rates – the best monthly footfall since the pandemic started.

Lots of businesses have also reported to us that shoppers are spending more per visit, continuing to support the local economy as well as making a shift towards consciously ‘going shopping’ rather than nipping out on a lunch hour to pick up a few items.

As businesses had a very welcome increase in demand from consumers, they could afford to fill the job vacancies that had remained while footfall was so poor. Demand for additional workforce increased across all customer-facing industries and this, coupled with the shrinking of availability, has created an extremely competitive jobs market.

This third big challenge led to an acceleration in the number of retail businesses paying the living wage and introducing additional staff benefits. This investment is difficult for businesses in the current trading environment but is undoubtedly a positive change for retail workers, and for the industry’s ability to attract and retain staff in a competitive market that is likely to remain for some time.

The speed of change across the retail industry remains rapid. We must collectively continue to develop the Jersey retail offer so it meets the expectations of the modern consumer.

2022 will be the year to ‘review and renew’ and we would encourage business owners to ask their staff how they would improve the business and ask their customers what they want to see more of. Build in the time to review their current processes, to identify more efficient ways of working and potential cost savings. Gather as much data as possible, analyse it and apply the learnings.

We will continue to listen to business owners and managers to inform the development of our support packages and to target our proactive industry engagement where it is needed most.

We are here to listen, respond and advise and to share what we learn. Thank you to all the retail businesses that have taken the time this year to feed back their issues and share their best practices to support others.

By working together we can continue to navigate any obstacles and grab all opportunities 2022 brings.

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