Let’s hope there’s an upside to Covid-19

Antony Begley

As I write this (from home, obviously) the world as we know it seems to have collapsed. It’s astonishing, and very worrying, how quickly society has disintegrated.

It’s also astonishing how quickly the retail supply chain has succumbed. All it’s taken is a matter of weeks to go from business as usual to distressingly empty shelves, panic buying and mass confusion. Coronavirus, it appears, is here to teach us all a few lessons about the fragility of a world that we all assumed was entirely robust.

But, as with all natural disasters, there are some amazingly uplifting things going on among the general chaos. Desperately challenging times may bring out the worst in some but it seems to bring out the best in many. The local retailing sector in Scotland has without any shadow of a doubt covered itself in selfless, passionate and remarkable glory over the last few weeks. Not only have local retailers across Scotland been working every creative angle imaginable to keep their customers in staple goods, they’ve also just been there for shoppers that need them, particularly the most vulnerable elements of the local community.

We’ve evidently gone from being unworthy, low-grade ‘unskilled workers’ to becoming ‘key workers’ discussed in the same breath as NHS staff in a matter of weeks. Isn’t it funny how major disasters help focus us on what really matters and what’s really important?

And this may be the positive upside to the havoc wreaked by coronavirus. When all of this is over and done with and some semblance of normal life resumes, I have the strong feeling that we will all emerge from this as changed human beings, and for the better. The importance of deep human emotions like compassion and understanding and selflessness are having their moment in the sun, and not before time. The last two or three decades have been dominated by acquisition, wealth, greed and selfishness. Maybe Covid-19 is here to teach us all something. The question is, are we all prepared to learn? And will what we learn stick with us in the longer term? It’s my personal hope that this pandemic will leave a positive legacy long into the future.

And as for convenience stores, shoppers have learned recently that their local retailer actually does care about them and sees them as more than just another sales opportunity. Local retailers have always been there for their customers of course but, to a certain extent, familiarity breeds contempt. Our sector often gets taken for granted – and not just by consumers. Witness the praise heaped on ‘supermarkets’ by the mainstream media and the government in recent weeks. Do they even know we exist?

So let’s all hope that consumers finally realise the true value of the local retailing sector – and decide to support smaller local stores permanently.

Let’s help each other through this. Stay safe.

Antony Begley's signature
Antony Begley, Publishing Director