The coronavirus pandemic has literally shaken the foundations of human civilization, and the retail sector has been one of the hardest that has been hit, but retail players have flexed their creativity to turn threats imposed by the new normal into opportunities to further strengthen their resiliency.

In Mindanao, The Primer Group of Companies has had to face the challenges imposed by the pandemic on its retail and distribution of consumer brands and products, including popular international brands and lifestyle products, on top of operating its own lifestyle boutiques including R.O.X, The Travel Club, Res|Toe|Run, Bratpack & GRIND.

“It’s very challenging to meet sales targets especially considering in 2020 contraction was more than half vs. previous year,” said Edgar M. Rabino, Primer Regional Sales Manager for Mindanao.

“However, we have managed targets to more realistic goals, backed with incentives to encourage more sales and adjust to realistic, doable targets. We have also leveraged partnerships with local media and bloggers to attain a higher visibility in multi-media platforms.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Rabino said he has been mostly working from home, although still visited their stores and boutiques once in a while, but had not managed out of town trips due to the quarantine restrictions.

Challenges to opportunities

“From being used to field work and seeing the real thing, mentoring our staff face-to-face, it has been a big adjustment to remote monitoring, at the same time ensuring safety first and maximize use of social media,” he added.

Logistics has been especially daunting with a cascading effect on the availability of products compounded by delays in international shipments, and having to deal with various quarantine restrictions to various areas where their stores and boutiques are located.

“When you consider this has been further exacerbated by manpower constraints during ECQ, additional costs such as storage fees because of the necessity of having to tap third party logistics, all these add up to being costly and time-consuming,” Rabino stressed.

Retail Philippines

According to Mordor Intelligence’s Philippines Retail Sector – Growth, Trends, Covid-19 Impact, And Forecasts (2021 – 2026), the retail sector in the Philippines has been facing challenging times in the study period, which worsened due to the sudden COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of forms of physical retail, including specialty stores, department stores, and other small and medium store owners around the country are facing challenges owing to the lockdown and physical distancing measures. Due to the fear of contamination, many customers temporarily stopped visiting the stores.

However, though customers were welcome into the stores, often the limited number of people in-store capacity and frequent/regular disinfection have added unexpected costs which further cut into retailers’ shrinking bottom lines.

The increased labor demand is another factor that is challenging the retailers to be active on the market. The ban on large gatherings and social events has a huge impact on occasional and seasonal sales, which are a large part of the retailing in the country.

The apparel segment has been affected greatly in 2020, especially the branded and luxury players in the market who are active in apparel and footwear due to the low demand for the products.

Keeping true to our mission : To Bring the World Closer to Our Customers.

Grant Thornton International report says retail has been in a major slump for the past two years; the pandemic only accelerated its restructuring. Department stores and shopping malls were also affected by the growing market share of online retailers. Since the main selling point of department stores is their in-store experience, they are yet to fully respond to the increasing demand for online shopping.

“The problems imposed by the pandemic have actually been a happy problem for retail in 2020 since it made us realize the value of virtual marketing and develop engagements with various communities such as marketplaces online in Facebook, Viber, and accelerate our digital transformation,” Rabino said.

In fact, Rabino said The Primer Group was fortunate it had already started facilitating cashless payments even prior to the pandemic, with already about 50% of its transactions being done through its dotcoms where customers can buy via credit card, and other contactless payments.

“In addition, within Cagayan de Oro City we have had opportunities to provide work and share income to service providers like riders who have become an essential part of our retail ecosystem,” he said. “For orders outside the city and region, we also tap 3rd party cargo forwarders and couriers like LBC, and even incentive customers further by offering free shipments for some brands when they purchase a minimum amount.”

Digital Trends

On a positive note, Rabino noted a marked shift to online marketing and sales since the pandemic started.

“It’s been an upward trend like everybody’s going digital na talaga, while we can’t afford to give up our brick-and-mortar stores, we brainstorm with 3rd party consulting firms. Our Omni-Channel is in the pipeline and hopefully will be launched soon, it’s the multi-channel mode of selling. This means we aren’t really doing away with the physical store but rather complementing, you can fulfill your customers desires in whatever mode they chose rather than focusing on either,” he explained.

 The way we pivot to this fast-changing retail landscape, our online presence.

“In fact, virtual store tours are now being done across all our stores upon customer request and engagement through our official/respective FB pages,” Rabino added.

According to a recent report commissioned by Facebook, Filipinos prefer convenience, live selling and mobile payments when shopping online, as new trends emerge due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 93 percent of Filipino respondents said they highly consider convenience alongside price when deciding what to purchase online, the study which surveyed 12,500 individuals in 14 countries, including the Philippines, reveals.

It said 87 percent of Filipino respondents said they’re willing to spend more for ease of access to products or services, with 90 percent saying mobile payments should also be widely available.

“People these days want what they want, when they want it, where they want it,” Facebook Philippines country director John Rubio told reporters in a press briefing.

“Research tells us that we should draw inspiration from the fact that for most consumers, the best journey is no journey at all. And by putting your customer first, you can eliminate friction, inspire discovery and maybe even set a new standard in convenience,” he added.

The Primer Group

Established in the Philippines in 1985, the Primer Group of Companies aims to be the leader in delivering superior customer experience, and accomplishes this through the retail and distribution of the world’s top and premium consumer brands in outdoor, travel, footwear, fashion, action sports, wellness and urban lifestyle. It has also established a solid ground in the industrial products and services landscape, with companies in full-scale printing, air-conditioning and creative graphic design and services.

Primer Group Mindanao Annual Get Together 2020 in Cagayan de Oro City. Mr. Edgar Rabino is 2nd from left, 2nd row (in blue shirt). (RMB)

The company is aggressively expanding to become the leader in the global distribution and innovation of premium goods and services. Its retail authority alone has grown to over 150 premium brands, with around 450 freestanding stores worldwide. Headquartered in Manila, Philippines, the Primer Group employs over 3,500 individuals. It is present in 10 countries including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and the United Kingdom.

To learn more about the Primer Group of Companies, you can visit their website. You can also connect with them through their Facebook and Instagram pages. 

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