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Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Faria

The retail sector reopens on Monday, at a time when people are losing jobs, have smaller budgets and less disposable income to spend.

Given the economically depressed conditions, many businesses owners are uncertain of the future of the retail sector.

The retail sector has been closed since the end of April, businesses have not been able to make money, and employees have been at home with no income.

CEO of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce Gabriel Faria told the Sunday Guardian that while retail businesses will reopen on Monday with lower demands from consumers, he is optimistic that pent up demand will be the silver lining for them.

“There is some pent up demand. There are people who over the months whose water heaters, their TVs, their computers would need repairs and they need to get a new one. With the new vaccines, school children need to go to school. However, I don’t believe that we will go back to the levels of consumption in the past. I expect that we will see a lower level of activity.”

With the Christmas shopping season a few months away, Faria was not too optimistic consumers will have the disposable income to spend as in the past during this commercially heightened period.

“The Delta variants and everything that is going on in the world, a lot of people don’t have any history with which to forecast the future,” he added.

President of the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber Mukesh Ramsingh said that he was not sure what will happen on Monday, as he felt some businesses would take a wait-and-see approach to gauge consumer turnout.

Ramsingh noted that although the retail sector has been closed for the last three-and-a-half months, there may not be a “big rush” to shop as people have less disposable income.

“Based on what took place with the opening of the food industry, the first couple of days were slow. I think for the retail sector it will be slow for the first couple of days too. People have to readjust, they may need to check their stock. People can’t bring in things because of a lack of foreign exchange, and they may not have money to invest in new items. It will take time for things to normalise. The retail sector is made up mostly of clothing stores and this ties into bars and social gatherings. People may not rush to buy clothing as it is not a necessity.”

Ramsingh is satisfied that the Government has made the first step in reopening the sector.

He said that the sector was reopening at a good time as in a few months, the Christmas shopping begins and the business community can start to prepare for this important commercial season.

Although his region has been hit hard by the shutdown, he expects most businesses to eventually reopen, whether it is on Monday or later in the week.

“It does not make sense for a business owner to reopen and there are slow sales. There are overheads to pay staff, pay rent and other bills. Some will wait and see.”

Coordinator of the Confederation of Regional Business Chambers Jai Leladharsingh is unsure how things will turn out when the retail sector reopens, but said job losses and business closures would affect peoples’ ability to spend.

Tobago Chamber of Commerce head Diane Hadad believes that the growing number of “hungry and unemployed” people in the country will prevent any major rush as consumers simply do not have the money to buy.

“Consumers are in a lot of poverty right now and other than public servants who have been paid, there are many persons who are jobless and will not have disposable income and cannot pay their normal bills, and there’s no guarantee that people will have money to go outside and buy.”

She said the pandemic has changed the culture of consumers, and the culture of going out and shopping and enjoying life is “subdued” at this time.