Retailers expect revenue slump amid new curbs

Malls remain open but tighter restrictions may discourage more people from going out.

Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

SEGMENTS of the retail sector may see revenues plunge by as much as 70% over the next two weeks as restrictions are tightened in the capital region to curb the surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections.

Until April 4, some businesses will be banned from operating at full capacity or at all, while indoor dine-in at restaurants will not be allowed in the capital and its neighboring provinces, or the so-called “NCR Plus” bubble.

The Health department on Tuesday reported 5,867 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 677,653. The number of active cases stood at record-high 86,200.

Roberto S. Claudio, vice-chairman of the Philippine Retailers Association, said that retailers will experience reduced patronage while restrictions are being enforced.

“Particularly, restaurants, fastfood (chains) and non-essential retailers will easily see 50% to 70% drop in revenue,” he said in an e-mail on Monday. “In fact most retailers and restaurants have already experienced 50% actual drop ever since the lockdown was announced on March 21.”

Retailers will cooperate with the authorities, he added, to help reduce the number of COVID-19 cases as soon as possible.

“The government will just have to accelerate the vaccination program and do more testing in areas that have high COVID cases,” he said.

The retail industry group at the start of the year reported that it anticipates “soft” growth for 2021, or 10% higher than last year. This potential sales improvement would still be around 20-30% lower than 2019 or pre-pandemic sales.

The sector suffered last year due to sparse foot traffic at malls and commercial centers amid the lockdown and increased public health anxiety among consumers.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Benedicto V. Yujuico on Monday said that smaller retailers would be affected by the temporary restrictions, noting that customer health fears would reduce foot traffic at restaurants despite government permission to run outdoor dining spaces.

A faster rate of inoculation, he said, will be needed to solve the crisis.

The chamber last week asked the government to allow the private sector to directly import vaccines without restrictions or conditions.

But President Rodrigo R. Duterte said the government cannot be held liable for vaccines bought by the private sector. Last month, Mr. Duterte signed a law giving indemnity to vaccine manufacturers.

The government has inoculated just over 360,000 of up to 70 million Filipinos it plans to immunize this year.

Meanwhile, PCCI is urging Filipino consumers to buy locally produced goods to help domestic businesses recover.

“In the face of losses from reduced economic activity, we are calling on all consumers and industry users to support Philippine-made products. This is to help local businesses survive, rebound and continue providing jobs for the Filipino people,” Mr. Yujuico said in a statement on Tuesday.

The chamber also encourages multinationals and local contractors, manufacturers, and enterprises to source materials within the country, unless there are no local options.

The Philippine economy contracted by a record 9.5% in 2020 due to the prolonged lockdown.