NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamian retailers say that they cannot continue to operate under curbside restrictions, warning that over 20,000 jobs are “on the line”.
The Bahamas Federation of Retailers (BFR) which represents over 100 local retailers said yesterday that based on previous statements by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, retailers were hopeful that they would be allowed to reopen fully on November 1.
According to the BFR, curbside service for the majority of its members represents a mere one to 15 percent of sales.
The BFR noted that under current restrictions retailers have been at least able to cover operating costs and keep staff members employed.
Most retailers have either shut down or only permitted to offer curbside/online service for five out of the last eight months.
The BFR said retailers were hopeful that come November 1 they would be allowed to reopen to the public to generate much-needed income during the upcoming holiday season in order to avoid bankruptcy and further layoffs.
“Many retailers committed to orders based on the PMs promise of ‘no more lockdowns’ in early September,” said the federation.
“However, in addition to the obligations faced by all businesses such as electricity bills, rent, payroll, internet, etc they now find themselves with insufficient cash flow to clear these shipments meaning that they cannot even outfit their stores with the requisite inventory to sustain seasonal turnover.
“These measures are choking the local economy and exporting our Bahamian dollars abroad,” the BFR said.
The federation noted that while there has been much public commentary on the failure of many retailers to switch to an online sales format, it was not as simple as “flicking a switch”.
“The logistics to integrate your point of sale software to become multi-channel requires time and significant upfront investment,” it continued.
“The many hurdles to the ease of doing business in The Bahamas make it that much more difficult here. Just to name a few, the lack of a stable power source, no functioning postal service, unstable internet connection, and unreliable phone service are critical challenges to the development of any online business.
“Furthermore, our members have frequently cited many hurdles faced when trying to integrate a digital payment platform here given the challenges associated with e-commerce options at the local commercial banks.
The BFR said: “Needless to say, the list goes on, so if The Bahamas is going to take the development of online services seriously as a nation then we need to engage in a wider nationwide dialogue to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in this space rather than allowing these well-known barriers to entry continue to burden the retail sector and the business community at large.”
The BFR noted that even when these challenges are mitigated, the fact remains that even in the most developed nations, online sales still only represent a fraction of the retail sector despite all the boost to online sales caused by COVID-19.
It pointed out that e-commerce sales in the United States accounted for just 16.1 percent of total sales despite a 44.5 percent increase in e-commerce sales during the second quarter of 2020 versus the second quarter of 2019.
The BFR furthered some of the largest and most sophisticated retailers in the world are unable to pivot their business to a wholly online platform even as online sales doubled.
The federation further noted that it was not sufficient justification for curbside restrictions and lockdowns to point to the US and/or Europe.
It noted Germany is compensating firms that are impacted by lockdown restrictions with 75 percent of their revenue for small businesses and 70 percent of their revenue for larger businesses for the same period last year.
“Should we expect the same compensation from the Bahamian government because these policies are preventing us from operating? We are not asking for this and nor do we expect it, given the fiscal realities we know the nation faces.
“However, we would similarly ask that our fiscal reality and that of our employees is respected by simply allowing the rest of the retail sector to operate as the grocery stores are allowed to, by following the protocols put in place,” said the BFR.
“Retailers in all categories are more than capable of conducting business responsibly given the new normal. However, enough is enough. These restrictions and lockdowns disproportionately impact the blue-collar workers of this nation that do not have the luxury of “working from home” as other white-collar positions in an office job may afford.”
It added: “The fact of the matter is that over 20,000 jobs are on the line now. That’s 20,000 families. We ask that the policies being contemplated have a heart and a soul. We have remained stagnant for too long and as we all know COVID-19 will be around for well beyond 2020. It is the policies of this nation that will allow it to carry on or not. We need to work together to forge the path forward.”