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Are retailers worried about a resurgence of the pandemic?

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While the world fears an encore, we asked key representatives of Indian retail if they were worried about the reappearance of COVID-19. Their replies were not just surprising but heartening as well…

By Shiv Joshi and Nehal Gautam 

Mumbai: Just as people were beginning to resume normal lives after the pandemic, the news of the resurgence of the virus in China made headlines, casting a dark shadow on hopes of a COVID-19-free future.

The pandemic was indeed one of the toughest periods for all businesses. According to the industry apex body Retailers Association India (RAI), retail was among the industries that were worst hit by the pandemic. The multiple lockdowns crippled the economy and bled businesses dry, forcing many to down their shutters for good. A report by Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) revealed that eight crore retail and wholesale traders incurred Rs 6.25 lakh crore loss due to the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions. Of this, retail suffered a loss of Rs 4.25 lakh crore and wholesale trade bore a loss of around Rs 2 lakh crore.

While the world fears an encore, we asked key representatives of Indian retail if they were worried about the resurgence of COVID-19. Their replies were not just surprising but heartening as well.

“As of now, it seems there’s nothing much to worry about. New Year celebrations passed with no news related to Covid-19 cases; So, there is no major worry from health point of view,” said Vineet Jain chief operating officer, V-Mart Retail Ltd.

When asked if he’s worried about the impact such an event on business he said, “There is no such impact to date on business operations at V-Mart, from a supply chain point of view. In fact, over the last six months, things have improved,” he said speaking about his company that runs 368 family fashion stores in 235 cities spread across 26 states and union territories in the country, covering a total retail area of 3.2 million sq. ft.

While he isn’t worried about the pandemic, he did express concerns about the threat of recession in certain countries impacting India. “Recession in other parts of the world may impact the market in some ways,” Jain said.

There appears to be a similar sentiment across the industry especially considering India’s preparedness from a government standpoint.

“India has done a great job of effectively handling COVID-19 and related issues in the last one and a half years. We believe that any resurgence of the pandemic in the country would be under control; the COVID task force would do the right things to ensure that both lives and livelihoods are taken care of,” Kumar Rajagoplan, chief executive officer of RAI said.

“Having learnt their lessons from the previous episode, retailers have invested in omnichannel play and are hence better prepared to deal with any disruptions without majorly affecting the business or consumer convenience,” he added.

Echoing the thought, Hemant Agarwal, chief managing director, V-Bazaar Retail said, “As a country and citizens, we are well vaccinated and better geared up to deal with Covid-19. So I see less reason to be worried. On the contrary, I see our customers more confident to shop for their requirements and celebrate their occasions. This should augur well for retailers during 2023.”

He added that still, retail businesses should not let their guard down and use the lessons learnt over the past two years to survive any crisis.

Not just physical retail, lockdowns affected D2C brands too, disrupting their supply chains. The brands faced major operational challenges from delayed deliveries to other obstacles. Aditi Murarka Agrawal, co-founder of artisanal home décor D2C brand Nestasia told IndiaRetailing that the brand had prepared for the worst.

She said, “Over the last two years, our team has gradually built capacity and we now carry higher levels of inventory to be prepared for any contingencies that might come up. Another way to combat any regional blockages or lockdowns is by diffusing inventory across the country to owned and third-party fulfilment centres to ensure that the impact is limited.” Nestasia is steadily working to expand its shipment facilities and third-party fulfilment centres, she added.

Queries to other retailers too revealed that all factions of retail have learnt how to deal with catastrophes like the pandemic and are well-prepared for the same. Looking at the rate at which brands are launching stores across the country, it appears that the industry is bullish about the future.

“Despite the clouds of uncertainty, we expect that retail in the country will grow better than all other key markets across the world. Specifically, we expect the occasion-wear (festivals, weddings etc.) category in the country to thrive provided no pandemic-related restrictions are introduced,” the RAI CEO concluded.

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