My Column

Online sho may be goodbye to stores

  • Date: Monday 25th January 2021
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I’m sure most of us can agree that the way we shop has changed to some extent over the past year.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has accelerated a shift in the retail landscape, with many traditional retailers surviving by evolving to include an online offering.

The effects of the pandemic are still being felt far and wide, with non-essential shops continuing to be impacted by closures due to lockdown.

For those traders – such as supermarkets – who’ve remained open throughout, the pandemic has brought with it a lot of changes.

When the nation was first plunged into lockdown back in March 2020, it felt as though the entire world ground to a halt; with hospitality, schools, medical and dental surgeries all suddenly forced to shut.

During the early stages of the pandemic, supermarkets were one of the few businesses to remain open, ensuring that people had access to essential items including food, sanitary and cleaning products.

Buoyed by initial panic-buying, grocery sales sky-rocketed and shelf-filling staff were hailed as heroes for their work to keep the nation fed during what was otherwise a very uncertain time.

It was remarkable to see and I’m so thankful to all staff who worked round the clock to provide an essential service to customers and maintain some sense of ‘normality’.

Fast forward almost one year and Scotland is now back in lockdown. Supermarkets are balancing the need to feed the nation with keeping customers and staff as safe as possible.

Thankfully, it’s a very different situation from the start of the first lockdown in March. Over the course of the pandemic, supermarkets have massively increased their online order capacity and implemented social distancing measures to curb potential spread of the virus.

Stores such as Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have all announced that they will refuse entry to customers who don’t wear face coverings, unless they are medically exempt.

Controlled entry to stores, one way systems, social distancing measures and product purchase limits have been introduced, in a bid to prevent crowding and panic buying.

But despite a hike in online shopping, physical stores have continued to be busy, making social distancing difficult for staff to manage.

It’s starting to take a toll on many employees, who reportedly feel unsafe at work, and have faced frustration and abuse from customers who refuse to follow COVID-19 safety rules.

In recent weeks, calls have been made to the Government to better protect workers, who should not have to deal with intimidation and abuse while simply doing their job.

It’s upsetting to hear that the staff who were hailed as heroes earlier this year are now experiencing aggression while at work.

It’s a difficult time for all, and if there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us it’s that we all must look out for one another. The very least we can do is treat workers with respect.

Interestingly, the pandemic has accelerated a shift in the way we shop for groceries, with many of us opting for online supermarket orders for the first time ever in 2020.

At the beginning of the pandemic, supermarkets were quick to ramp up their availability for online shopping. Now web orders account for a hefty chunk of grocery sales.

While December was a very difficult time for brick and mortar retail, the online share of UK grocery sales doubled in December, helping to drive supermarkets to their biggest Christmas on record.

Some 8.5 million households did their Christmas grocery shopping online in 2020 — equating to just over 30 per cent of all UK homes. This is an increase from 5.7 million over the same time the year before, according to Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight.

Online grocery shopping has proven to be a lifeline for many customers, especially those who are elderly, vulnerable or shielding, allowing them access to essential goods without having to leave home.

It will be interesting to see how consumer habits will play out in the future. When the pandemic eases, will people continue to shop online for groceries, or will there be a new, increased desire to shop in physical stores?

No matter what the future holds, UK supermarkets have proven that they are resilient enough to adapt and thrive.


It was disappointing to see Scottish seafood businesses experiencing ongoing disruption at ports as exporters desperately try to get highly perishable, fresh-caught produce to markets in Europe.

Britain’s departure from the European Union means new checks and paperwork have been causing widespread delays for the industry, and seafood producers say they are becoming increasingly frustrated at the UK government’s slow reaction.

Last week fish exporters held colourful demonstrations outside government departments in central London, warning their livelihoods were under threat. Seafood lorries displayed slogans saying their sector had been forgotten and that rotting fish in the back of lorries were “the Brexit truth”.

Boris Johnson’s government reacted with the announcement of a £23 million support fund for struggling fishing firms. However critics were quick to jump on the cash boost, calling it a financial “minnow” when what the industry really needs is a “whale”.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation say the compensation will help some businesses; but the priority must be to get salmon to customers in the EU quickly and efficiently – as customers on the continent are cancelling their orders.

Westminster say the scheme is targeted at small and medium-sized fishing businesses who can claim a maximum of £100,000 to cover their losses.

Industry leaders say cash injections only offer a sticking plaster, but that won’t be enough to “completely staunch the wound”. Industry body Seafood Scotland also called on trade and customs systems to be overhauled so they are fit for purpose. 

The salmon farming sector alone is worth £300 million every year in exports to Europe. So it seems the support package on offer from the UK government is a case of - not bad, but cod do better.




It will take more than a pandemic to stop Scots around the world celebrating Rabbie Burns, while raising a glass to the “great chieftain o the puddin'-race”, this year.

The world’s largest Burns supper takes place tonight. Haggis brand, Macsween will host the event on Facebook, helping people come together, safely, to celebrate our national bard.

The oft maligned Scots delicacy has experienced a renaissance over the last decade, with the tonnage of haggis shipped across the world increasing by 136 per cent in that time and now boasting an export value worth £8.8 million.

Hong Kong, a far cry from Rabbie’s hometown in Ayrshire, is the most popular destination for Haggis exports outside Europe. I wonder what Burns would have made of that when he penned his famous address to the “warm-reekin, rich haggis”?



Last week the Scottish Government announced further lockdown restrictions, including continued remote learning for school kids.

It means parents will have to continue juggling working from home, remote learning and childcare - as teachers try their best to provide lessons online. 

Parents are resourceful. Some use increased time at home to teach their children vital life skills like budgeting, cooking and cleaning. Others share the schedule in shifts, to split up teaching responsibilities. While those with a bit more cash are outsourcing the job through one-to-one online tuition.

Taking time out of your working day to teach however undoubtedly has an impact on productivity and output, with many parents struggling mentally with the added responsibility.

Here’s hoping a return to normality soon to give parents a break and let teachers and kids get back to the classroom.


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