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Walking On Tenterhooks

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I was sure we’d be having a bang-up back-to-school season followed by a killer holiday season. Covid was in retreat in the US and most of the developed world, and freed from masks, the vaccinated felt safe.

Then came Delta.

Now, once again, we are all walking on tenterhooks, and expect the CDC to re-institute indoor mask requirements shortly. As many of you know, I live in Florida, one of the three epicenters of the Delta boom. People wear masks on their chins… maybe… and there are distinctive demographic differences between who gets vaxxed and who doesn’t.

Will the holiday season be all that we thought it would? I’m just not sure. Once again, it’s demonstrated that sales are really hard to forecast.

Of course, what’s not hard to forecast is supply chain woes. Are the right products en route? Will they arrive in time? It all seems sort of…ephemeral. As in…no one really knows.

Speaking of the “right products” – with mask mandates back, will desirable gifts change again? If ever there was a time for a clever merchant, that time is now. With Delta more contagious than the variants that came before, I see people reluctantly returning to their hidey holes. I do know that, at least in South Florida, more than 98% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated. We get very varying reports of vaccine efficacy against the Delta variant, but even if I don’t end up in a hospital, I don’t want to get sick. Who does? More sporting goods? More Uber Eats? Restaurants have just had an awful time, and I’m not sure they’ve yet found the right formula to get workers to actually wait tables for them.

I guess we could call this the Delta blues.

So what does this mean for retailers?

  • Supply Chain visibility is imperative – it must be more agile, faster, and responsive
  • Front-line Workers matter – notwithstanding some executives saying they don’t care too much about distribution center employees, we are totally dependent on them. Don’t kid yourself. Workforce management and support is also an imperative
  • Vaccine mandates? Each retailer is going to have to decide on their own. My vote would be, do it. This isn’t about freedom, it’s about public health
  • Get your promotion management support in place – we all know that many retailers have excess inventory. Pressure to become more sustainable means that clothing and other products can’t just be thrown away.
  • Personalize those promotions – it’s clear that different countries have different rules and different challenges. Think carefully about localizing and personalizing promotions, since the virus will be less virulent in some areas than others. So much will be different at a micro level

We are headed into more challenging times. Our best hope is that this explosion in the virus doesn’t generate even more contagious variants that may be more resistant to vaccines. Of course, today’s anti-vaxxers will simply say “We told you so.” These kinds of self-fulfilling prophecies don’t make me happy.

Overall, we are all walking on tenterhooks waiting to see what happens next. I never thought I’d have to yank out the N95’s again, but here they are. I had to fly somewhere, and they were a requirement from my point of view.

I wish I could provide more surety around what’s to come. I do believe that we have to be prepared for anything and everything. It’s time for agility and flexibility. And man, the supply chain has to normalize. This is getting silly.

Newsletter Articles July 27, 2021
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