Adapting, rebounding, hoping to hire: Reports reveal retailers’ triumphs, troubles

The pandemic has called for small businesses to exercise extreme adaptability to stay afloat, forcing independent retailers to reconsider how to remain accessible to consumers. Entering June, independent retailers are taking a look at the past year as well as the current landscape and determining which new business practices could prove evergreen beyond the pandemic.

Kansas City adaptability

Kansas City’s independent retailers have proven their adaptability since the onset of COVID-19, according to a survey of hundreds of retailers by Shopify, a company that makes e-commerce software. The survey addressed how retailers have adjusted their practices to continue serving customers within the confines of local health orders.

Nationally, 44% of independent retailers started offering local delivery during the pandemic, and 37% provided curbside pickup. In Kansas City, nearly half of retailers launched a program to provide at least one of those options.

The question remains whether retailers in the Midwest and elsewhere will continue to offer these new options and services, and that may depend on whether their customers want them to. Survey says: yes.

“26% of consumers say that curbside pickup will increase their interest in shopping local,” according to the Shopify report, “so we may be seeing local retailers using curbside pickup and delivery options well into the foreseeable future, among other new measures introduced this year.”

Retail sales rebound

The U.S. Census Bureau’s retail sales report for April showed that total retail and food sales increased from just over $407 billion nationally in April 2020 to about $617 billion this April, an increase of more than a 50%.

The apparel business was a big driver of that increase, with sales of clothing and clothing accessories jumping by more than 700% nationally from last April to this one. Grocery stores were the only kind of retail business to see a decrease, declining 0.2%.

Some of that year-over-year increase is attributable to extremely low retail sales in April 2020, which was one of the worst points of the pandemic for the U.S. economy. Relative to those depths, surging sales this April were particularly pronounced.

Optimism inches up

Optimism among small business owners has been on the rise since January, according to the National Federation of Independent Business’ index, which hit 99.8 in April. However, the index is still lower than the 103.9 registered in September and October. The Midwest’s index rating for April fell near the middle of the bunch at 98.1, with the Mountain region ranking the highest at around 102.6.

The NFIB’s index is calculated based on business’ plans to increase employment and inventory, expectations for sales and expectations for the economy, among other factors. The NFIB’s report emphasizes a lack of workers as one of the biggest obstacles facing small businesses.

“Finding qualified employees remains the biggest challenge for small businesses and is slowing economic growth,” NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said in the report.

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