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Is Uncertainty the New Normal?

Adaptability is the cure for convenience store retailers.

National Retail Federation (NRF) Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz last month declared that retailers can expect the COVID-19 omicron variant to cause “another very challenging year of substantial uncertainty.”

Is the pandemic near its end?

Will supply chain issues be resolved?

How high will inflation go, and how long will it last?

Those are the big questions that remain unanswered for 2022, according to Kleinhenz.

“Even with the experience of the past two years, there is no model that can predict how the economy responds to a pandemic. What we have learned is that each successive variant has slowed down the economy, but the degree of slowdown has been less,” he said on the eve of the opening of NRF’s Big Show convention at the Javits Center in New York City, which took place in spite of the spread of omicron, but featured some virtual elements, too.  

Meanwhile, across the country, the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which were to be held in late January in Los Angeles, were postponed, and the Sundance Film Festival cancelled in-person screenings and events in Park City, Utah.

In the trade show space, PLMA’s annual January Private Label Trade Show in Chicago was cancelled, but NATSO Connect 2022 plans to welcome truck stop and travel plaza operators to Orlando later this month. 

Despite the uncertainty of omicron’s impact on retail spending, I believe most people are sick of COVID hysteria. Nearly two years after “flattening the curve,” I’m over it. I’ve stayed at home a lot, but I also went out every day for my morning coffee at my local convenience store. I got my first two vaccines as soon as I could, and I got the booster shot when I was eligible for it. My wife and I ate at restaurants, both inside and outside. We traveled, both on business and for pleasure, and even internationally. We still take precautions. Wear our masks in close quarters with strangers. But, like most Americans, we want to be free to live our lives to the fullest.

It may turn out that inflation will be a bigger negative for retailers this year than even the virus. And supply chain shortages continue to plague retailers. But whatever obstacles arise this year, the convenience store industry has time and again demonstrated its ability to adapt to changing market conditions. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to adapt in 2022. 

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