A worker puts boxes of tikoy at a store in Binondo, Jan. 22. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter

LOCAL RETAILERS remain optimistic for the industry’s recovery this year despite new variants of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) posing a threat to the economy.

Roberto S. Claudio, Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) vice-chairman, said the group expects sales projections to remain positive as long as the strictest form of lockdown is not implemented to curb the COVID-19 infections.

“So long as there will no longer be major lockdowns that will be imposed by the government and the fact that people are seeing less consequences on the Omicron variant, fed up with the quarantine and are now going out to shop, eat and travel, our projections will remain positive in 2022 starting in the second quarter,” Mr. Claudio said in an e-mail interview last week.

Metro Manila is under Alert Level 3 until Jan. 31 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, believed to be caused by the more infectious Omicron variant.   

“Early 2022 with the Alert Level 3 and Omicron variant, (the retail) industry sales in January have dropped almost 50% from average 2021 levels. We expect this to linger for the rest of the first quarter of 2022. We are expecting a rebound (for) the rest of the year. No setback is anticipated. Retail industry is re-engineering and innovating to address the changing consumer environment,” Mr. Claudio said.    

Steven T. Cua, Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association (Pagasa) president, said in a mobile phone message that supermarket operators remain optimistic about the sales outlook.

“Barring continuous mutations and prudent entries of travelers by the different nations, societal acceptance of vaccination in general, by now, and governmental pressure for the unvaccinated to get inoculated, Pagasa would choose to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometime this year,” he said.   

Mr. Cua said it bodes well for the industry that vaccinated individuals are more confident as they learn to live with COVID-19.

“People (are) beginning to live with it and find it bearable,” he added.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel last Thursday, Rustan Commercial Corp. President Bienvenido “Donnie” V. Tantoco III said the trajectory of the retail industry’s recovery is still intact despite the Omicron-driven surge.

He said the company had seen a recovery in sales in the last four months of 2021, with some categories reporting better figures compared with pre-pandemic levels.   

“(Omicron) was not completely unexpected because it started in other countries. Our attitude right now is that the momentum or the shift from pandemic to endemic that we felt was already happening, in spite of Omicron — that trajectory is still intact,” Mr. Tantoco said.   

“What we’ll see when we get to the endemic mode is maybe a little bit more revenge shopping, but that is just very short term,” he added.   

Mr. Tantoco said retailers need to adapt to the changing consumer preferences.

“What we need to do is to understand that (change) deeply and we need to adapt what we do, so that it aligns with how the customer has changed. Because that alignment will require a different kind of organization than what we were pre-pandemic, then the organizational change is probably the biggest challenge,” he added.