The pandemic drove many people to their local stores, and the high levels of customer service and availability have kept many of them coming back since lockdown restrictions have been lifted. It’s this availability, however, that has become increasingly unreliable in recent months.
“Deliveries are absolutely up in the air, wholesalers are capping loads of products,” says Alan Mannings, of Shop on the Green in Chartham, Kent. “Until you get your full dispatch note, you’re not sure what you’re getting on the day.” It’s hard for retailers to expand their delivered stock as well, says Sudesh Patel, of Londis Coulsdon, who has started visiting a cash and carry daily. “It’s harder to branch out and find suppliers, they won’t take on new customers at the moment,” he says.
Mannings has responded by going out of his way for certain products. “I drive to a cash and carry in Canterbury, which is 15 minutes away, then another in Folkestone 30 minutes away, then 45 minutes to Gillingham,” he says. “Sometimes, I’ll go through the Dartford Tunnel to Barking, which means a lot more fuel costs, resulting in less margin on my products.” He is also now working alongside two other local retailers to help pick up stock for each other so they aren’t spending too much time away from their shops.
Retailers’ lack of options has been compounded in some cases by the imposition of a delivery fee by certain wholesalers. This was already an unpopular decision among retailers before availability worsened following its imposition.
“There’s not much we can do about it,” says Ismail Bhattay, of Mibsons Service Station Uplands in Handsworth, Birmingham. “Since the minimum drop fee was introduced, availability has become worse – we’re not receiving 30%-40% of what we’re ordering. It’s extra time and more work, but I find the local cash and carry has more availability than our supplier.”