ICFA COVID-19 survey reveals retailer concerns

Nearly all International Casual Furnishings Assn. (ICFA) members responding to a survey fielded last week by the trade group are expressing deep concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business this year.

Although participants reported only one known case of coronavirus among employees at the time of the survey, 72.8% of the executive respondents noted their companies had already been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic. While smaller companies, those with one to four employees, were most likely to have long-term viability concerns due to the coronavirus, nearly 40% of the 101 executives surveyed still expressed “mild” concerns.

“This is an evolving situation,” notes one retailer in their response. “Last week we were still busy, but this week, it’s deadsville. People are starting to take social distancing seriously and if everything is shutting down around the world, it’s going to have a domino effect on our industry in getting and selling products to people who are not shopping right now.”

Nearly all retail and manufacturing executives anticipate the virus will impact their day-to-day operations for the next two to three months, with more than half (53.4%) already experiencing delays in getting product and materials from suppliers.

“As we all know, the situation across the country is changing on an almost daily basis,” says Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the ICFA. “Given the fast-moving nature of this ongoing crisis, with more governors each day ordering heavier restrictions on businesses in an attempt to flatten the curve, we intend to field a follow-up survey in another week or two.”

Currently, the survey finds that companies involved in retail and those who provide services to individuals are struggling the most, in large part because of widespread restrictions on openings and movement. Many businesses were already in the midst of staff reductions last week, with 45.7% reporting moderate reductions, and another 17% characterizing staff reductions as major. Nearly a third of the dealers surveyed were also working to trim expenses with major reductions in advertising spends, including 34.5% noting moderate reductions in advertising. Retailers were also scaling back technology spends with 20% making major reductions, and another 23.7% reporting moderate reductions.

More than half of the retailers surveyed expect that the virus will have a “very negative impact” on revenue this year, with 49% anticipating at least a “somewhat negative” impact. In an effort to curtail some that negative impact, many companies are changing up their routines.

Nearly all companies surveyed reported taking new actions due to the coronavirus, ranging from increasing the availability of hand sanitizer (73%), cancelling large group activities (70%) and instituting employee distancing policies (67%). Additionally, some 40% of companies surveyed were instituting at least partial work-from-home mandates.

“It’s important to stay focused on business,” notes one respondent. “We can’t change what is happening around us, but we can change how we react to it.”

The ICFA’s research, completed by Industry Insights, was fielded from March 16-18.

Adelaide “Addie” Elliott is an associate editor focusing on retail coverage for Furniture Today and Casual Living. Previously, she also served as the web editor for both those brands and Designers Today. Before being promoted in May 2019 to web editor, Adelaide worked as Furniture Today’s editorial intern for a year. Get in touch with her on Twitter at @AElliott_Writes or by email at aelliott@designerstoday.com.