EXCLUSIVE: Electrical retailers report of panic buying as Coronavirus takes hold

EXCLUSIVE By Francesca Seden

As Coronavirus grips the planet the UK government has stepped up its measures to protect the public from the disease and introduced a raft of measures to help businesses stay afloat during the crisis.

ERT spoke exclusively to retailers to find out how the pandemic is affecting them and get their reactions to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest announcement on business relief.

Retailers across the country have had an interesting few weeks with many reporting record sales of freezers and fridge freezers as consumers panic-buy frozen food. Bread makers and OLED TVs have also seen a significant uptick.

All we spoke to have been busy but footfall is now slowing and shop owners around the country are extremely concerned about the coming months.

Matt Renaut of Dacombes of Wimborne
Matt Renaut of Dacombes of Wimborne

“Many of our customers are over 70,” Matt Renaut of Dacombes of Wimborne tells ERT, “so if they have to stay home we’ve lost half our customer base.”

Ronnie Ashley at Trafalgar Electronics, added: “We’ve been busy the past few weeks but we’re slowing now and who knows what might happen? We might have to close.”

While Paul Mead at Michael R Peters explained: “We’ve been really busy since last Friday as there’s been a snowball effect with people panic-buying and realising they need a second freezer, but now we’re almost sold out.

“We had an old couple come in and trade up their old tubby tellies to a modern OLED smart TV. They figure if they’re going to be stuck at home, now is the time to buy something new so they can enjoy it, while they can’t go out.”

Ronnie Ashley
Ronnie Ashley

Along with the interesting anecdotes of unusual purchasing behaviour during this time, there is much uncertainty across the already-struggling electrical retail sector, so it’s no surprise that retailers and Retra Chief Executive, Howard Saycell, have been eagerly anticipating Tuesday’s (March 17) government press conference, where Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to offer £330bn in government-backed business loans to big businesses and grants for small to medium-sized businesses of up to £25,000 to help with costs.

Speaking to ERT, Mr Saycell welcomed the move, commenting: “There is a lot of support there for small businesses and the retail sector, which is great as that makes up most of our membership base. The question now is how does one apply for a grant, and how long will it take to come through? But it’s a strong, timely move by the government and the commitment to do more if needed is also promising.

Howard Saycell
Howard Saycell

“That said, we need more meat on the bones and more detail, though in principle  we really welcome it. My big hope is that it will help businesses stay open, which might have otherwise had to close. The suspension of business rates will help big and small businesses but the grants to help smaller businesses will really help electrical retailers, so I’m really pleased.”

Mr Mead was more cautious, adding: “Whilst some plans are in place, my understanding is that it isn’t going to be instant and we will have bills to pay in the next two weeks. While we might be busy today, next week business might drop off the edge a cliff. If government said we could have V.A.T holiday or P.A.Y.E holiday then that would instantly help and would take the onus off of us retailers who are struggling and stressed enough as it is.

Paul Mead

“Our industry can almost be classed as the fourth emergency service because of the crucial appliances that we sell. People need ovens and fridge freezers. And there are the things that many local retailers do that multiples won’t do – such as delivering up lots of flights of stairs or lifting appliances above waist height. The buying groups need to help support us and the manufacturers too – some flexible payment terms would be helpful as we’re all in this together. We’re all still in limbo right now.”

Mr Ashley added: “We’re not sure how to claim and I think that might all be announced next week though we have been in touch with the council to try and find out. I think it sounds good and suppliers and landlords obviously know what’s happening so are sympathetic. It would be nice if suppliers could put a hold on payments for the time being and obviously we wouldn’t be able to order further stock, but that would be helpful.

“Our shop has been really quiet but we’ve been really busy. People have been ordering over the phone, but I’m not sure how long this will continue.

“And I would agree with Paul in terms of us being a potential emergency service. If people are stuck without a washing machine or fridge freezer and can’t get out it’s important we’re able to deliver one.”

For more information and news surrounding Coronavirus and its impact, Retra members may find the Retra website FAQ section helpful.