It would be a grotesque understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for small businesses. In fact, it has been downright devastating; a reported average of 48 businesses in England, Scotland and Wales closed their doors permanently each day in 2020.
Local vape shops were some of the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. During the strictest lockdowns, vape shops were considered non-essential businesses and were forced to suspend operations. Even as lockdowns have begun to ease, though, vape shops haven’t seen the influx of returning customers that they hoped to see. Vaping products are easy to buy online, and even those who are fully vaccinated aren’t in a rush to resume their old shopping habits; they’re happy to continue buying almost everything over the Internet until it’s safer to be out and about.
Although vaping products are small and easy to ship, even vape shops that exist entirely online and have no brick-and-mortar stores have found it difficult to cope during the pandemic because of persistent supply chain issues. Vaping devices need computer chips, and we’re in the midst of perhaps the greatest semiconductor shortage ever. Most vaping hardware is made in China, but that’s true of almost all consumer electronics – and there aren’t enough shipping containers to get products from China to all of the customers around the world who are ordering them. When shipping containers do make it to ports such as Felixstowe here in the UK, the unloading process is slow because the ports don’t have sufficient manpower to unload the containers promptly.
The challenges that UK vape shops face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t unique; they’re the same challenges that all small businesses face right now, and every business has to weather the crisis in its own way if it hopes to survive. Vaping products, however, aren’t the same as other consumer products – and getting consumers interested in different types of vaping products is precisely how many UK vape shops are surviving during the COVID crisis.
These are some of the steps that UK vape shops have taken to remain viable until supply chains and consumer spending habits begin to normalise.
Increased Focus on E-Commerce
COVID-19 has absolutely transformed consumer spending habits, with many people now spending almost nothing locally and buying almost all of their products online. The shift in consumer spending has helped companies already well positioned to handle the demand – such as Amazon – grow at unbelievable rates. Meanwhile, small businesses have rushed to add e-commerce functionality to their websites as quickly as possible. A simple look at the stock market shows the result of that transformation. Shopify, one of the world’s most popular providers of e-commerce solutions, has seen its stock value nearly quadruple since the beginning of 2020.
Vape shops are no different from other small businesses with regards to the shift from in-person to online sales. Those who were already selling products online at the beginning of the pandemic experienced rapid sales growth until supply chain issues brought things back down to earth. Those who weren’t selling online scrambled to implement e-commerce functionality as quickly as possible.
Increased Focus on Locally Made E-Liquid
People who vape spend most of their money on two consumable products: e-liquid and coils or pods. While virtually all of the hardware comes from China, most of the e-liquid used in the UK is made here or in the United States. The US is the world’s biggest market for vaping products, and it might be the world’s biggest maker and exporter of e-liquid as well. However, shipments of e-liquid out of the US slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic because of shipping congestion and because of regulatory changes that forced many US-based e-liquid makers to close.
With e-liquid imports from the United States becoming more difficult to obtain, UK-made e-liquid has become more popular than ever. Instead of continuing to aggressively advertise imported e-liquid brands, UK vape shops are instead working harder than ever to direct customers’ attention to locally made brands like Blackburn-based Vampire Vape. That’s helped to reduce the “Sold Out” messages that stifled vape shops’ sales during the height of the pandemic.
Increased Focus on Rebuildable Atomizers
Aside from e-liquid, replacement pods and atomizer coils are the vaping products that consumers buy most often. Virtually all vaping hardware is made in China – and since the flow of goods out of China still has yet to normalise, the most popular vape pods and coils have been difficult to find in the UK since the start of the pandemic. That’s not just bad for UK vape shops. It’s also bad for consumers, because you can’t vape if you don’t have an atomizer coil. Consumers who can’t find the coils that they require can either invest in new vaping devices or tanks, or they can give up and switch back to smoking.
With those things in mind, many UK vape shops have encouraged their customers to switch from vape tanks with pre-built coils to rebuildable atomizers. When you use a rebuildable atomizer, you build your own vape coils using resistance wire and cotton. Coil building supplies aren’t affected by the current shipping difficulties, and consumers who buy those supplies in bulk can build coils for months without needing to buy more.
Increased Focus on Higher-Nicotine Vaping Setups
The final factor that’s caused difficulty for UK vape shops is the fact that many consumers simply don’t have as much money to spend as they did before the pandemic. A high-end vaping setup can be expensive to use because it consumes a large volume of e-liquid and requires more frequent atomizer coil replacements than a smaller vaping device. Given that fact, many UK vape shops are encouraging their customers to save money by decreasing their e-liquid consumption. That can be done by switching from a large vape mod to a smaller pod-based system or by switching from a powerful vape tank to a smaller rebuildable atomizer designed for the mouth-to-lung inhaling style. A lower-power vaping setup works best with a higher-nicotine e-liquid – and using a higher-nicotine e-liquid means that you won’t need to stock up on vape juice as often. That switch has helped consumers save money, and it’s also helped to prevent vape shops from running out of their most popular e-liquids.