Cash & Working CapitalCOVID-19

Sign of the Times: Retailers Say Coin Shortage Worries Persist

By January 19, 2021No Comments

Burned by a dearth of coins during the pandemic, many retailers are cautious despite some signs of stability.

“Cash-mageddon” is how one member at a recent meeting of NeuGroup for Retail Treasury described the havoc wreaked by the coin shortage that made life hellish for many retailers last year. And despite signs of normalization and increased production by the US Mint (see below), some members remain unconvinced that the coin supply disruption caused by the pandemic is truly over.

Cautious about outlook. “The Fed hasn’t really given any new updates, so I would not take your sign down,” one member said, referring to the ubiquitous signs asking customers to use exact change or telling them to use credit or debit cards. One company resorted to giving out gift cards as change.

  • Another member whose company sometimes went weeks without a new coin delivery echoed the caution voiced by her peer.  “I’m uber-sensitive to coin; it was incredibly draining for our stores,” she said. “We’re at a point where it’s stable, but given all the uncertainty, keep your signs up, maybe to save you from having to reprint them.”
  • A third treasurer remarked that because the coin shortage stems from a circulation issue, if Covid protocols send consumers back online and away from physical stores, he “doesn’t see us being through it.”
    • The member said his company is completely reliant on courier services to deliver new coin to brick-and-mortal locations, and if for some reason there is an issue with the courier, the coin shortage would return. “It feels like they don’t have enough built-up inventory, they’re just using up what they have for that day,” he said.

Courier issues. Other members who use couriers for cash pickup and delivery said they share similar worries after years of inconsistent service, even before the pandemic.

  • When the coin shortage worsened last summer, couriers were hit hard as well, sometimes going up to 10 days without service for retailers. Though delivery has improved to a level that one member called “stable,” it still is not meeting some corporates’ needs.
  • “I’m being incredibly frustrated by the quality and level of service of these companies,” one member said. “I’m trying to be sensitive to their situation, I’m guessing their business is declining. They’re claiming there are driver shortages due to Covid, but sometimes we are going weeks without pickup.”

An unplanned stress test. One member said because the coin shortage became a large pain point, it served as something of a stress test, showing companies just how much they could take and providing a warning to prepare for all scenarios.

  • Another member said she is now preparing buffers and sensitivity analysis for her company, planning for the possibility of another lockdown.
  • “We’re thinking through a lot of the things we probably thought would never happen,” she said. “I don’t think anyone ever thought that we wouldn’t have coin, so when it stopped showing up, that was devastating to our stores. We had to be nimble and quick.”
Justin Jones

Author Justin Jones

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