An increase in online sales has been one of the most notable consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak on the vaping industry across Europe, as the sector continues to battle market disruptions and shop closures.
In the UK, online shopping has been the solution for e-cigarette users during the lockdown, which began on 23rd March.
“My business has seen online traffic increase by as much as 200%, as people find new ways to access their vaping products. Similar rises are taking place around the industry,” Dan Merchant, managing director of UK internet retailer Vape Club, told ECigIntelligence.
Merchant, who is also a spokesperson for the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), believes that web shops have become a “lifeline” for vapers in these difficult times.
A similar trend in online trading has been seen across the vaping industry in Italy, one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus.
Sales crash in Italy
FlavourArt, one of Italy’s leading e-liquid producers, has registered a slight increase in online sales in recent weeks.
The Italian vaping market generally is suffering heavily the economic consequences of the virus and the national lockdown, which will last until at least 13th April.
According to Umberto Roccatti, president of Italian e-cig retailers’ association ANAFE, there was a “strong” increase in online purchases during the first week of the pandemic as consumers rushed to stock up on e-liquids in preparation for the lockdown.
Nonetheless, during the first weeks of March, overall industry sales fell by 30-40%. Those figures are now flattening out, though experts forecast possible further drops in the next month.
In general, the vaping supply chain in Europe has suffered the effects of reduced availability of supplies coming from China.
“Disruption in China was severe at the beginning of the outbreak. China is a crucial manufacturing hub for the vaping market and accessing hardware and devices has not been easy for many UK firms,” Merchant said.
Chinese factories back up to 70% capacity
The British vaping industry believes that as things return to normal in China the situation will stabilise, although some delays might be expected in the supply chain for some time.
“We are seeing supply normalise once again, but problems cannot be solved overnight,” Merchant added. “Vaping manufacturers operate to such exacting standards of quality and safety that staff in isolation cannot be as easily replaced as those in other industries”.
Some vaping manufacturers have told ECigIntelligence that Chinese factories are currently working at around 70% of their normal production capacity and are starting to ship products again.
As ECigIntelligence reported a few days ago, the effects on e-cig sales channels are mixed and some delivery services are warning of delays and other limitations on service.
In the UK, vaping companies are working to ensure that they don’t see a significant product shortage in the coming weeks and months.
Vaping ‘well placed to bounce back’
Merchant is optimistic. “In the short term there will be disruption in the industry, as there will be in all others, but vaping is well placed to bounce back strongly,” he said.
He added that there could be a possible benefit for the European vaping industry if the crisis encourages smokers to switch, which would be “a real coup for public health”.
To achieve this, the industry is calling on governments to consider allowing physical vape shops to remain open in the coming weeks to avoid the risk of consumers running out of tobacco-alternative products.
In France, the government changed its mind and finally decided that vape stores could remain open despite the containment measures imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In Ireland, where vape stores were not included on the list of essential retailers, the Irish Vape Vendors Association (IVVA) wrote to the government asking it to reconsider.
“It is difficult to know how many businesses will go to the wall,” IVVA director Declan Connolly told ECigIntelligence. “Government support for all employees is quite good, but the business may face problems with rent.”
What This Means: The global public health emergency is directly affecting the vaping industry as a whole and although manufacturers are trying to remain optimistic, the truth is that this crisis is creating a lot of uncertainty for everyone.
The online market, which in some countries represents an important chunk of the whole retail channel, is allowing consumers to order their products. But the industry is warning that the lack of supplies from China, where the blockage has only recently been lifted, could bring some more stock issues soon.
It has also inspired a raft of new regulations and procedures. Take a look at our regulatory tracker for details.
– Beatrice Bedeschi ECigIntelligence contributing writer