COVID curbs a challenge, but retail companies say better prepared this time


For a lot of businesses that have presence in physical retail, the situation is back to square one as Coronavirus cases are rising, resulting in new restrictions and curfews. Maharashtra, one of the biggest markets, has already announced a lockdown.

The latest challenge comes even as the industry is yet to recover from last year’s losses.

Retailers’ woes

According to Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retail Association of India (RAI), the $ 850-billion retail industry in India suffered a loss of around $ 150 billion last year. Now, with the lockdown in Maharashtra, 1.2 million retailers will be hit and revenue loss for April due to COVID-19 curbs is estimated at $ 5 billion.

Rajagopalan feels retailers are taken for granted. He feels whenever there is a spike in COVID cases, the retail industry is targeted despite retailers taking all precautions and adhering to safety protocols.

Adding to this, Ganesh Kumar, COO, lifestyle business, Raymond Ltd, said, “The business was picking up momentum and suddenly this will be a speed breaker. In the coming eight to nine months, there are wedding dates available in every month and this was the driver that we were banking on which would have helped the business to recover. The weekend sales are 50-60 percent higher than weekday sales. So, this (new restrictions) will be a challenge.”

While industry players are expecting some negative impact, they exude confidence that they are better prepared this time, compared to last year.

Why retailers are less scared this time

For one, it’s not a national lockdown.

“This time, we are better equipped to deal with the situation in terms of safety protocols. In the last one year, we have never let the guard down. Looking at the wedding season, we have done good stocking in our shops and franchises in the last few months,” said Kumar.

Apparel and textile major Raymond, which has more than 1,500 stores across India, has around 200 stores in Maharashtra, and there are around 55-60 stores in the Mumbai-Pune belt. Kumar said that they also service a lot of wholesalers.

While there are challenges due to the new restrictions, he said that the lockdown is of a different nature.

“Barring Tier I, most stores are on high streets. So, there is good accessibility to make sure the material reaches the stores unless there is a nationwide lockdown,” he added.

Gurpreet Singh, Managing Director, JIVO Wellness, a canola cooking oil brand, also said that they are better prepared this time. JIVO Wellness is present in 15,000 mom-and-pop stores across India.

“There are issues with transportation but we are used to it now,” he said. To avoid problems, they have doubled the workforce, in case there are medical issues. “We have also maintained a buffer stock in our godowns (warehouse).”

FMCG company BL Agro is also prepared for the new restrictions.

“We have started building a transportation system. We have trucks and lorries and have made sure that we are present in every district in terms of distributor network,” said Sanjeev Tripathi, Vice President, Foods, BL Agro.

In terms of safety, the company has ensured vaccination for all employees who are 45 years and above.

BL Agro looking at expansion

Apart from being prepared, BL Agro is looking to expand its presence in the retail space.

“We are operating in 13 states and are present in 58,000 retail outlets. We are looking to take it to 2,40,000 by 2023-24.”