FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 22, 2021
Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) participated in a panel discussion on Monday before the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic & Preparedness Response to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on Florida's retail industry over the past year.
Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the FRF, discussed the retail industry's hardships and transformation and explained the ongoing challenges retailers face.
"The pandemic has no doubt had a permanent impact on the retail industry," said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the FRF. "Almost immediately, there was a massive shutdown. As the realities of COVID-19 set in, [there were a number of other impacts to retail]: the panic buying of products, the search for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), massive unemployment, and the massive loss of sales and related revenue."
The Florida retail industry represents more than 274,000 businesses in Florida and supports nearly 3 million jobs.
The forced closure of stores had a real impact on jobs tied to retail. Nationally, retail sales fell 16.4% in the month of April 2020. According to Bloomberg News on April 2, over 1 million retail workers were furloughed.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis adopted a science-driven approach that allowed businesses to safely reopen and workers to get back to work.
"I think to see the level of shut down that has taken place in other states would have been absolutely devastating to our [retail] businesses," stated Shalley.
"[Governor DeSantis] recognized that it's not what you shop for, it's how you shop. It's how do you behave when you're out in public, are you following CDC guidelines, can we incrementally get people back to work?"
Florida retailers implemented health and safety measures recommended by the CDC, requiring masks for employees and customers, routinely sanitizing stores, implementing social distance measures and more.
To support Florida retailers' efforts to reopen and ensure they could remain open, the FRF focused on keeping them informed of shifting local government regulations. More than 160 different county and city mask ordinances were tracked, reported and updated by the FRF to help members stay in compliance with requirements.
"If we [follow guidelines], we stay open," said Shalley. "We keep people employed. We sell products and continue to thrive in this evolving environment."
The retail industry did more than follow guidelines and restrictions, it transformed over the last year by accelerating the adoption of new technologies. Retail stores launched new purchasing avenues, including online, curbside and delivery services.
Retailers have also been crucial to the distribution and administration of COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
"Our chain pharmacy members have done a phenomenal job of playing a very pivotal role in the vaccine administration," said Shalley. "Moving forward, we'd like to see a continuation legislatively of the rules that were adopted by [U.S. Department of Health & Human Services] and by the state's Executive Orders."
Florida businesses have proven once again to be resilient and adaptive. Yet one year later, challenges remain.
The Florida businesses that in good faith implemented the appropriate health and safety guidelines face significant liability risks. In addition, Florida's current sales tax system leaves local retailers at a disadvantage when competing with out-of-state businesses that are not required to collect and remit sales tax.
Thankfully, legislation in both chambers will help alleviate these burdens.SB 72 and HB 7will protect retail businesses from frivolous COVID-19-related lawsuits. SB 50 and HB 15 will require online and out-of-state retailers without a physical presence in Florida to collect and remit sales tax to the state.
"There is a great sense of optimism," stated Shalley. "We look forward to continuing to grow and serve the state of Florida."
ABOUT THE FLORIDA RETAIL FEDERATION
The Florida Retail Federation is the statewide trade association representing retailers -- the businesses that sell directly to consumers. Florida retailers provide one out of every five jobs in the state, pay more than $49 billion in wages annually, and collect and remit more than $20 billion in sales taxes for Florida's government each year.