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With 77.5 per cent keeping their showrooms open and 85 per cent continuing to work in customers’ homes, retailers in the mobility sector have committed to keeping their products and services available during lockdown.

40 retail bosses responsible for over 175 of England’s mobility showrooms responded to THIIS’ Lockdown State of Play survey, revealing their plans and predictions for the month ahead.

It comes as England entered lockdown on Thursday 5 November. The period is expected to last one month until 2 December and similarly to the lockdown in spring, the new restrictions include the closure of ‘non-essential’ retail.

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Providing clarity to the sector, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) released a statement on 4 November, confirming that mobility retailers were deemed as ‘essential’ and could continue to operate during lockdown.

Over the week, mobility retail leaders from across the nation responded to THIIS’ Lockdown State of Play survey, providing insights into their lockdown plans and what impact they envisage the period having on their businesses.

Keep the doors open or bring down the shutters?

SOP Mobility Showroom open
THIIS State of play survey: How the mobility retail sector will respond to lockdown

Out of the 40 respondents, an overwhelming 77.5 per cent confirmed they would keep their showrooms open throughout the lockdown while 15 per cent said they would close their physical space to customers.

SOP Operating hours results
THIIS State of play survey: How the mobility retail sector will respond to lockdown

Interestingly, more than half (55 per cent) stated that their stores would continue to operate under the usual operating hours and days. 30 per cent reported that operating hours will be reduced and only 5 per cent said they would move to an appointment-only system.

Carrying out work in homes

SOP Working in homes
THIIS State of play survey: How the mobility retail sector will respond to lockdown

62.5 per cent of mobility companies offering services within people’s homes – such as assessments, product demonstrations or installations – said they would continue normal operations within a person’s residence. A further 22.5 per cent responded that they would also operate in customers’ homes but only for emergency repairs and maintenance work.

12.5 per cent stated that they would stop all operations carried out within people’s homes altogether during lockdown.

Furlough and redundancies

SOP Furlough staff results
THIIS State of play survey: How the mobility retail sector will respond to lockdown

60 per cent of survey respondents confirmed that some staff will remain furloughed throughout the period while 30 per cent said that staff will be brought back into the business during lockdown. 10 per cent, however, revealed that staff will be made redundant.

Important to note: Some answers were collected prior to the government’s announcement on 5 November that furlough will be extended until the end of March 2021, potentially impacting some of the respondents’ plans.

Staying COVID-Secure

SOP COVID-Secure measures
THIIS State of play survey: How the mobility retail sector will respond to lockdown

As highlighted by the government and the BHTA, companies continuing to operate during the lockdown must adhere to stringent COVID-Secure measures.

See THIIS’ breakdown of COVID-Secure guidelines in shops and working in homes from earlier in the year here.

A substantial 82.5 per cent of mobility retail bosses confirmed that they will not add any further COVID-Secure measures during lockdown. Since spring, much of the mobility retail sector has operated under strict COVID-Secure measures, as revealed in THIIS’ earlier State of Play survey in June.

17.5 per cent stated, however, that further COVID-Secure measures will be introduced.

These include:

  • Carrying out all repairs off-site
  • Contactless and virtual assessments for sales, service and repairs
  • Temperature checks and sanitising stations on entry
  • Track and trace QR codes put up in-store
  • Overshoes put on feet before trying shoes on
  • Chairs protected with disposable pads
  • Considering a COVID-Secure assessment pod separate to the main showroom
  • Home deliveries of small aids and continence products, alongside hot food from retailer’s onsite café
  • Introducing incentives to encourage consumers to use ‘no-contact delivery service’

The impact of lockdown on retailers’ businesses

Mobility retail leaders also shared insights into what impact they envisage the lockdown having on their businesses. To varying degrees, the overarching feedback was a reduction in footfall, sales and revenues. Notably, however, a number of respondents also predicted an increase in repair work over the period.

It comes as the mobility sector enters winter, a traditionally quieter period for many dealers as sales of big-ticket items such as mobility scooters and powerchairs decline.

For many retail leaders, the lockdown will compound the difficulties faced during the colder trading season, with vulnerable customers even more likely to avoid going out or having others in their homes.

The comments highlight that while showrooms and companies may be committed to remaining open during lockdown, many business leaders in the sector are preparing for a tough month ahead as demand falls.

See some retailers’ answers to ‘What impact do you envisage the lockdown having on your business?’ below:

  • “Severe reduction during the lockdown but some good recovery afterwards”
  • “80% reduction of in-store sales with hopefully an increase of online sales”
  • “A much-reduced footfall, however, we envisage an increase in telephone orders and breakdowns as other mobility retailers close and/or reduce hours/services”
  • “We expect sales to fall during the lockdown due to lower footfall and an expectation that all shops are closed because of widespread closures across the industry in March. We are mitigating any fall with reduced staff costs through the use of the furlough scheme in the hope of remaining cash flow positive”
  • “Slight negative effect on sales of products but an increase in hire and servicing”
  • “There’s no doubt this is going to reduce turnover and footfall. However, we are going to use this time wisely; lots and lots of staff training, work on our EPOS system and stocktake”
  • “Reduced sales but customers have been asking if we will stay open as they need incontinence products each week as they can’t afford to bulk buy them”
  • “This period will be tough. A lot of clients are shielding and this is having an impact on our assessment and sales. We feel urgent help from the government is required as while we can remain open, our clients are shielding and potential clients are also shielding so we feel many mobility companies are suffering and will cease trading”
  • “Complete loss of business during this period”
  • “Reduced footfall, deferred purchases. Retain regular and specialist customer requests”
  • “Slight restraint as people will assume that we’re not open”
  • “Slowdown of sales, an increase in repairs”
  • “Reduced mobility trade as clients not going out as much, but increased equipment used for hospital discharges”
  • “Devastating as I have just got boots and slippers in for winter and Christmas presents and will not be able to sell any of them”
  • “Significant reduction in end-user assessments in the showroom and in the home”
  • “Substantial, it has not picked up to normal trading since last lockdown”
  • “We will lose about 50% of our trading”
  • “The main thing is advertising so people know we are open for business as usual!”
  • “Very little, trade has been ahead of last year’s levels”
  • “Reduction in customers visiting our showroom. Reduction in sales. Reduction in-home visits. Reduction in staff working hours and the possible furlough of some staff”
  • “Company may cease trading”
  • “More resistance from clients to allow access to their homes – this may put them at increased risk of slip, trip or fall if they delay installation or provision of critical safety equipment or mobility equipment. Similar resistance through fear will be increased to prevent us from carrying out routine safety services, which could lead to hospital or care home admission if the equipment were to subsequently fail”
  • “It is entirely dependent on access to assessments and OTs’ support for their caseload. If that remains as it was in October, there will be little impact. If OTs are unable to carry out their normal duties, our orders will drop and two to four weeks later that will translate to income. December is a notoriously quiet and difficult month so whilst we are cautiously optimistic, things are very finely balanced between now and the new year”
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