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‘Not A Single Merchant’ Avoids Covid Staff Woe

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas Federation of Retailers’ co-chair yesterday said “there’s not a single merchant I’ve spoken to” who has escaped COVID staffing shortages as she branded Christmas “hit or miss”.

Tara Morley told Tribune Business that the explosive increase in COVID infections linked to the Omicron variant had struck at the worst possible time for Bahamian retailers, striking in the week leading up the Christmas holiday that, for many, represents the busiest sales period in the year.

With the sector still grappling with inventory shortages and product delays resulting from the global supply chain crisis, she added that retailers were “rolling with the punches” as Omicron further compounded their multiple challenges.

Revealing that some retailers and restaurants have been forced to cut opening hours and shifts, and call in healthy staff to work overtime and cover for COVID-infected or isolating colleagues, Ms Morley joined the Bahamian tourism industry in urging the Government to reduce the 14-day quarantine period in line with the latest US and UK requirements.

She argued that this would allow previously sick staff, who subsequently tested negative for COVID-19 and were given the medical all-clear, to return to work faster and relieve the growing burden placed on both their employers and fellow workers through multiple absences.

Disclosing that she knew of one retailer, who she declined to name, running out of stock over Christmas because their inventory shipments did not arrive in time due to supply chain bottlenecks, the Retail Federation co-chair said she was also aware of one non-retail business where all staff members caught COVID at their Christmas party.

Besides staffing shortages, Ms Morley said some merchants had suffered from having a significant percentage of their customers isolating at home due to COVID-19 and unable to shop. She added that Christmas performance had been impacted by location and target market, with retailers with multiple stores reporting that some sites did “gangbusters” while others fared poorly.

“It’s been quite the start to the New Year,” Ms Morley told Tribune Business. “The supply chain issues are still carrying on, and this whole COVID mess is creating a lot of challenges for staffing purposes. It’s definitely having an impact.

“There isn’t a single retailer I’ve spoken to who has not had an issue. Anyone who says otherwise does not know what is happening or enjoying pure luck. At some point or other, they’re going to get hit with it.

“There are some restaurants operating with a 15 percent staff infection rate. It’s really great, and I’m happy for businesses where remote work is feasible, but for operations like hotels, restaurants and retail stores, that requires an in-store physical presence. It’s ultimately going to have an impact,” she continued.

“Quite a few retailers and restaurants have had to reduce hours or shifts to accommodate staff shortages. All the team that isn’t sick is getting much more pressure applied to come in and work longer hours and cover shifts for people caught with COVID. It’s just an added pressure with everything else going on.”

Ms Morley backed the Bahamian hotel industry’s call for the Government to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for workers infected with COVID, and bring it into line with the seven days mandated by the UK and five days required by the US.

“I think it is definitely something we should be following similar to other countries,” she told this newspaper. “The 14 days appears to be outdated as far as I can tell.

“As long as people are following the guidelines of the health advisers, and making sure anyone coming back into the workforce tests negative, double negative, for the period doctors recommend... It seems people are testing out earlier than the 14-day period, and that will certainly alleviate the burden on someone testing positive coming back to work.

“It will also alleviate the burden on colleagues that have to come in and cover extra shifts. I think it really just helps any business that requires an in-person presence. The sooner we get team members back up to full capacity, the lesser the burden on all staff and the business. Truly it’s been a lot of burden on team members having to come in and work those shifts last minute.”

Describing Omicron-related staffing shortages as “an additional logistical challenge to running your business”, Ms Morley added: “I don’t know of any stores that have experienced a full wipe-out of staff. One business I know, and it’s not a retailer, it’s in a completely different service industry and staff can work remotely, but it had a staff party and every single person got it.”

As for the retail industry’s festive season, which can account for up to 40-50 percent of some merchants’ annual sales, she told Tribune Business: “Christmas for a lot of retailers was very hit or miss depending on whether shipments arrived or not, and these staff shortages started right before the busiest period. The timing of this [Omicron] was not ideal; it was crunch time for retailers.

“It’s an amalgamation of issues. There’s a lot of additional headwinds facing the retail sector. I don’t know of anyone that’s not had a few staff members test positive. Everyone is just rolling with the punches and everyone’s just doing their best to navigate through this mess.

“There are probably some retailers that had a great Christmas, and some that did not have a good Christmas. I know of one retailer that ran out of stock because their shipments did not come in on time, and it messed with their figures. There were other retailers where a lot of their clients had COVID so they did not get the regular volume of December shoppers because they were at home.”

Ms Morley added that supply chain woes, such as increased freight costs and delayed orders/extended delivery times, have “not calmed” yet and she predicted that they will persist for at least another six months and possibly the whole of 2022. “The key to 2022 is going to be remaining flexible,” she said.

Comments

John 4 months, 1 week ago

THE PROBLEM with MOST RETAILERS is they threw COVID caution to the wind. And outside the protocols. Many retailers and shoppers became excited as they saw the crowds and said ‘well maybe it’s ok.’ And so the crowds swelled. And likewise for family and social gatherings. And many party animals and shoppers knew they were infected but they continued to shop and party and to party and shop. The crowded malls, and food stores and phone stores. People didn’t want to miss Christmas. And many became I’ll. And fortunately the Minister of Health had the foresight to cancel carnival. Retailers, who had had a long and difficult year did not want to take the chance of losing customers or sales by asking customers to stand in lines and filter in. They crowded them in and it was mostly staff of these businesses that became ill. And fortunately the Omicron illness is not as serious and severe as the Delta and neither does it last as long. And as for sales, it was mostly hit or miss. Firstly it was the home fix up from paints to decor. And even though electronics saw some hits, the choices for gift giving and self gratification were jewelry and perfumes. Sadly some also gave Covid.

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happyfly 4 months, 1 week ago

Gee. I thought when I got vaccinated that I wouldn't catch covid, nor be able to transmit the virus (as traditional vaccines do) but alas, getting these experimental mRna vaccines has turned out to do absolutely "zippo" in reducing the spread of this disease......oh....unless you want to call a 90% breakthrough infection rate a success that is ?? At what point do we stop blaming each other for the virus when it is now a known fact that it was cooked up in a lab in Wuhan and absolutely nothing the WHO has 'instructed' us to do has worked so far ?

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John 4 months, 1 week ago

Overall many retailers experienced a decline in sales year over year for Christmas 2021 over 2020. Many Bahamians took advantage of the opportunity to travel and many have perfected their online shopping skills. Some say January sales for the first week are down by double digits.

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TalRussell 4 months, 1 week ago

De sole most important way to meet head-on, de fast surging COVID-19 hospitalization caseloads, will demand that de colony's Federation of Retailers’ must rise-up off their arses to throw weight behind, introducing mandatory vaccination and everything else like this and that ― Yes?

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LastManStanding 4 months, 1 week ago

So the solution to a labour shortage is refusing to hire/firing half (probably over half considering that a lot of retired folks have the shots) of the workforce?

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ThisIsOurs 4 months, 1 week ago

"she was also aware of one non-retail business where all staff members caught COVID at their Christmas party."

You can't ask the govt to make up for stupidity

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TalRussell 4 months, 1 week ago

@ThisIs, If a lack transparency contributed to downfall de Red Regime, shouldn't replacement want to show their hand of all the Christmas and New Year's parties we all know they bashed at and everything else like this and that, including de pictures ands videos? We de PopoulacesCommeners', just loves see other peoples business told and acted out pictures in and them spicy videos, ― Yes?

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ThisIsOurs 4 months, 1 week ago

maybe. id rather see some graph of their partying behaviour mapping the number of persons who attended who were infected post party and maybe the movements of Typhoid Johnny who made it to all the parties

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TalRussell 4 months, 1 week ago

Why I precisely, upfront sprung to my feet in representation of de 20,000 PLP voting reds, who to want kickoff 2022. with beginning demonstrate transparency, by producing copies de pictures and videos capturing their partying ways for exposure of regular persons and higher-ups who attended Holiday Seasons parties.
Never too early practice some that much demanded transparency whilst was occupying de House's opposition bunches, ― Yes?

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