With businesses everywhere feeling the pinch due to the economic slowdown caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Government recently announced a variety of schemes to restore consumer confidence as part of the Budget 2021. But are they enough?
Christine Pace, Managing Director of Dorkins Ltd, who represent top fashion brands like Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Superdry, Marella, Clarks and more, and the co-owner of the Monsoon and Accessorize retail brands in Malta, Jackie Urpani, spoke to WhosWho.mt about their reactions and what they believe is needed to bring back the feel-good factor.
Both Ms Pace and Ms Urpani welcomed the announcement of a second voucher scheme, with Ms Urpani saying it was “very effective and successful” the first time round, when numbers were successfully kept low. “We were seeing many local people out in the shops whilst taking the necessary precautionary measures, and this translated into good sales.”
Ms Urpani praised the Government for the measures it introduced prior to the reopening of the airport, saying they were “really helpful” for the retail sector and the wider economy.
However, this success was “brought to nothing” with the reopening of the airport “without any form of control or restriction”, which she says “brought us back to square one”.
“Things have gotten completely out of control,” she opines. “This is a big pity when we had managed to contain the numbers so successfully before”.
Ms Pace meanwhile identified the rent and electricity refund schemes as central to the continued survival of retailers, along with the moratorium on loan repayments. “I would have liked to see these extended in the Budget”, she says.
Ms Urpani also welcomed the extension of the Wage Supplement to March 2021, calling it “an immense help” to retailers “to keep things up and running”.
Both speak with trepidation about the future. “I don’t think that vouchers alone are going to see us through the winter months,” says Ms Urpani. Ms Pace was more unequivocal in her approach, saying, “The vouchers will help but will in no way see us through the winter!”
“The most important thing is to get the COVID numbers down to increase customer confidence,” Ms Urpani asserted. She is skeptical that this can be done however, saying that a massive effort is needed to contain the spread of the virus.
"Drastic action needs to be taken to stop the numbers increasing and to regain control of the situation. When people are out and drinking it is much harder to control inhibitions and respect social distancing, so enforcement needs to be in place to ensure this does not happen."
Ms Pace agrees that consumer confidence is key to the survival and continued success of their business, suggesting a reduction in utility bills for all, including private households. She points out that this would help with cash flow, which could translate into more sales.
With infections rate still on the rise as we head into the shoulder months of the peak tourism period, it remains to be seen whether the measures introduced so far will be enough to help businesses thread water, or if we will be seeing closures and layoffs in the not too distant future.