The clock has ticked into 2021 and Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc throughout the world. For some, the most tangible and present consequences of Covid-19 are the extensive and repetitive lockdowns. Given the infection rate and how the virus is spread, social lockdowns continue to be seen as a key means to reduce overall transmission and alleviate pressure on health systems.
How has the coronavirus crisis affected the DIY sector?
These lockdowns have resulted in a new understanding of the home. The home is now not only a place offering refuge, shelter and warmth, but has also become an office, school, playground, gym and restaurant. One of the consequences of this transformation is a new focus on home improvement.
Even prior to the lockdowns, and subsequent transformation of the home, DIY was an essential retail sector – as DIY shops sell equipment necessary for the upkeep of homes and businesses. When considering even the most basic human needs: food, water, warmth, shelter and safety; the home is the first provider for all of these.
The everyday necessities found and sold in DIY stores can be divided into six main categories:
- Plumbing – not just the provision of water, but also keeping water out of homes.
- Lighting and electrical goods – to bring life into the home.
- Heating – of key importance in the winter months.
- Hygiene – more important now than ever before.
- Security and safety equipment.
- Hand tools required to complete these jobs.
These essentials are mostly supplied through DIY stores, which builds a strong case for DIY and home improvement stores to remain open, even in the strictest of lockdowns.
Global views on DIY as an essential sector
The essential role that DIY stores play has already been reflected by some governments. The USA, England, France and Ireland have all classified DIY retailing as essential on the grounds of “selling products necessary for the essential upkeep and functioning of places of residence and businesses”. Moreover, despite the UK being in its strictest alert level to date (lockdown level 5), DIY stores remain open to the public. This is also the case in many other countries across the world.
Which countries have given more importance to the DIY sector during the lockdown?
Some countries have varying views on the necessity of home improvement stores throughout their different states and provinces. In Canada, for example, the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador have all considered hardware and DIY retailing as essential, whereas the province of Ontario has categorised DIY stores as non-essential and only allows curbside pick-up following an online order.
Other countries, for example Germany and Austria, are only allowing registered trade professionals to enter DIY stores, whilst the general public have to rely on Click & Collect channels or home deliveries. These methods may seem to offer a solution; however, they leave many unable to obtain essential products.
To illustrate this point, consider individuals in straitened circumstances who could at this moment be dependent on government grants. These people may not currently be able to afford the costs associated with a certified and skilled labourer. Furthermore, emergencies that can develop in the home, for example leaking pipes, blown fuses or boiler issues, sometimes require immediate attention. Having accessibility to stores reserved only for certified labourers can therefore leave many people without direct access to products that they need to maintain a safe home.
And the use of Click & Collect or home delivery options? There are also limitations in offering these methods as opposed to in-store shopping. Most importantly, the associates working in DIY and home improvement stores are experts who are well informed about the products they sell. In some cases, for example electrical maintenance, ensuring that the customer is informed, provided with the correct product and notified about potential risks can prevent possible serious injuries. Moreover, people who are not accustomed to purchasing online, or do not have a means of transport at their disposal, can feel isolated from these new shopping channels.
Why DIY stores must remain open?
Around the world people have rediscovered their homes, as empirically seen through the increase in DIY related searches on the internet and increased spending on DIY. Further to this, an ongoing poll by the Westfälischer Anzeiger, with over 7000 responses, found that 67.5% of people who answered the questionnaire felt that the closure of DIY stores is ill-advised as they are more important than book or fashion stores.
DIY and home improvement stores are perfectly positioned to continue to offer the wider population access to essential goods to maintain their homes, as well as offering guidance and advice on DIY projects.
In the first wave of lockdowns seen across the world, DIY and home improvement stores were exemplary in their response. Through quick reactions, extensive training, demonstrating adaptability and always putting customers and associates first, DIY stores ensured they offered a safe shopping environment, and continue to do so. Another aspect to consider is that the size and spaciousness of many DIY stores lends itself to creating a safe shopping environment. Wide aisles, good airflow and high ceilings are all of benefit.
The closure of DIY and home improvement stores in some countries during this new wave of lockdowns is potentially putting many people in difficult and dangerous situations. As highlighted above, DIY stores provide essential products for home maintenance. Products that are widely required to maintain a safe living environment. This is why DIY stores should be classified as essential retail globally and must remain open.
Edited by Iñaki Maillard