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Surviving these extraordinary times, a blog by Colin Bottle
Well, I think the one thing we can all agree on is that is has been a monumentally different last twelve months?!

Many businesses have been battered, first by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions placed on the retail sector, then by the subsequent impact of the delays and massively increased costs of shipping goods in from the Far East, and then finally with the virtual halt on getting goods into and out of Europe as the confusion around the last-minute Brexit deal kicked in. Oh, and then some more lockdown restrictions to deal with…

With this backdrop, there have been mixed fortunes for businesses. For some the lockdown of the vast majority of the high street retailers has been excruciating, though this has been compensated to some extent with an increase in online sales. This brings its own challenges, with demands on previously low-traffic websites, increased customer service demands and, in many cases, a higher dependency on the online retail giants. For others, the millions of workers now sat at home have had time on their hands to order some of those handy home products that they didn’t know they needed, and business has somewhat boomed.

For us at Trade Counter Distribution all these challenges have descended on us from different directions:
The immediate challenges of remote working where possible, but for the majority of our warehouse-based staff getting to grips with new, safe working practices and the restrictions of keeping people safely distanced, which can be clearly seen in our video.

A significant shift towards online orders, changing the weekly pattern of orders and creating many more, low-value, single-pick orders.

Depressed order volumes from across the retail sector making resource planning all the more difficult.

Delays and unpredictability in delivery of goods from the major ports, with back orders building up awaiting delivery and sudden surges of activity to release when stock arrives.

Significant issues getting goods into Europe post-Brexit, again causing orders to back-up and deliveries having to be held in the warehouse.

So, what have we all learned from these most unplanned and “unprecedented” experiences?
Firstly, I must pay tribute to the resilience of our workforce, as I am sure many, many similar businesses would do up and down the country. Their determination to work through what initially were quite scary times, and all the new restrictions and procedures they have had to follow, all on top of whatever challenges the pandemic was creating in their personal lives -- It really has proven that people are a company’s most important asset.
Secondly, the ingenuity and determination of our customers’ businesses to adapt, regroup and ride out the storm.
And thirdly, the importance of partnerships with our customers and suppliers. A feeling that “we are all in this together”, a willingness to make exceptions, to make allowances, to keep each other informed, to provide additional direct help where possible and above all to show some genuine human compassion for what the other person is going through both professionally and personally.

And what is in store for the year ahead?
Clearly, we are all yearning for a return to some of the ‘old norms’ with increased business returning to the retail sector and more relaxed and less restricted modes of operation, but there will be plenty of new challenges, opportunities and ‘new norms’ also as the impact of the last year unfolds.
For individuals there will be concerns for household finances, national economies and job security. While businesses face increased costs of shipping, distribution into the EU and even packing materials; all putting pressure on prices. And then the spectre of additional tax burdens.
There has been a very accelerated shift towards online retailing, some of which is here to stay and a greater appreciation of work-life balance, with working from home which will change consumers buying habits, not just where they buy but potentially what they buy also.
Broadly speaking there has been a rise in interest in wellbeing gifts, sustainable gifts, personalised gifts, letterbox gifts and hampers. Furthermore, companies selling solutions for the home and home working were also big success stories of the last twelve months. Take a look a one such customer of ours, The Holding Company.

Let’s talk now about the trends for 2021 in giftware and find inspiration and hope in doing so, for there is much to be hopeful for and positive about!

Baking, food and drink – we’re still loving food and drink, trying new things and treating ourselves to artisan products and equipment as we were almost 12 months ago now. Many people have really found a new love of this that looks here to hang around for a while.

Letterbox gifts – really came into their own this past year – however people and businesses have realised how handy this idea is for being thoughtful (and also being practical)!

Personalised gifts – personalisation is taking off more than ever – and the good thing about being an independent business is that it is often easier to offer – but that hasn’t stopped giants like Nike expanding personalisation.

Wellness and self-care – people want to ensure their loved ones are looking after themselves and increasing numbers of people are being aware of their own self-care, this is great and here to stay as the message on the importance of mental health awareness continues to spread.

Shoppable TV / social media – an expected trend is people wanting to buy what they see on the TV or on influencers pages – Instagram shopping has already begun this – but the trend for being able to buy what we see, for example on our favourite Netflix shows, is predicted to expand.

Pop up shops- online in person – with so many businesses online now – there is a trend predicted for it being popular for these to pop up in bricks and mortar stores or markets – giving people a chance to see businesses that are predominantly online, in person.

Giving back – charitable donation etc.- this year has highlighted to many people the struggles charities go through and the need so many people have for support from them. This is something which is predicted to stay as it has captured people’s minds.

We look forward to a very different next 12 months in which we continue to provide the very best warehousing and fulfilment solutions to our customers and celebrate their successes and growth.