Coronavirus outbreak: ‘People would rather give their mum some loo roll’

“Business has been really tough. Customers are not thinking about Mother’s Day, they’re thinking about their groceries at the minute. Flowers are a luxury, and they’d rather give their mum some loo roll!”

Ruth Donoghue owns The Flower Shoppe in Lee, south east London. She closed her store on Friday, having only had a handful of orders for Mother’s Day.

“We’ve had the worst Mother’s Day I’ve seen in 34 years of having my shop,” she says.

“I pre-ordered all of the flowers two weeks ago, but we just don’t have the customers. Everyone’s saving their pennies and understandably worried about their jobs.”

Ruth adds that she isn’t clear on whether or how she can access the support that the government has offered. She says that the cash grant of £3,000 for very small businesses affected by Covid-19 wouldn’t go far enough.

“That’s my rent – and it’s due next week,” she says. “I’d normally pay that out of my Mother’s Day profits, but I won’t have any this year.”

As well as seeing lower footfall to her shop than usual, Ruth has also had to deal with brides and grooms cancelling orders for wedding flowers as celebrations are postponed.

Online sales boost

But as fewer people go to the shops, some businesses say that online sales have seen a boost.

Cat Owen, the owner of Cat Food Cakes, says she has sold “double the amount I normally would” this week, despite having no walk-in customers.

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Cat Owen owns Cat Food Cakes, a bakery in London

“I’ve had to completely adapt my business. Normally for Mother’s Day, I would take about 30 orders of trays of personalised cupcakes.

“But, I’ve had no orders for those. Instead, I’ve made delivery boxes of everything you’d need for an afternoon tea at home, and they’ve been really popular.”

Cat adds she has “no idea” about whether she will have to close her shop over the next few weeks.

“I’m taking as many orders as I can right now. It’s stressful because I’m not sure whether I’ll even have any ingredients, so I’m trying to make as much money as I can right now”.

‘Not enough’ to make up for the fall

Although small businesses like Cat’s are changing to keep up with online orders, analytics company Global Data suggests that the increase in internet sales won’t make up for the sharp fall in “physical” purchases.

This was echoed by Angus Thirlwell, the chief executive of luxury retailer Hotel Chocolat.

Although its online sales have seen a big increase in the run-up to Mother’s Day, he told the BBC this was not enough to “wholly off-set” the reduction in footfall seen across its 125 UK shops.

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Angus Thirlwell is the chief executive of luxury retailer Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat has also asked staff to work in roles they normally wouldn’t because demand has spiked in different areas of the business.

Mr Thirlwell said: “We’re asking staff to adapt and work in different locations, or for example on packaging chocolates if they normally make them.”

He told the BBC that the changes meant that the firm would not be cutting jobs, although some of its stores are closing temporarily.

He added: “I do think that this will result in a lasting change. Huge parts of our customer base will get used to buying online, they’ve registered and found out how easy it is.”

“Hopefully, there are some silver linings in the clouds ahead,” he said.