How COVID has affected the vaping industry in the UK

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how we all live our daily lives, it has also had a massive impact on the way the vape industry has been able to operate. Adapting to the changing restrictions as we have responded to the available data has made running our businesses seem more chaotic than it did previously. Lockdowns, social distancing and unstable supply chains have all had a disruptive effect on the day-to-day running of a business.

During lockdowns, vape shops have not been able to open as they were not deemed to be essential. This has been a point of contention within our industry. Vape shops do provide what is considered by the customers to be an essential service, keeping them off traditional tobacco products. There was a period over the summer where shops were able to be open while observing the COVID restrictions. Needing to have masks worn in the shops, screens between the staff and the customers and social distancing in place at all times. Most shops observed a “one in one out” approach with customers as well as practising hand sanitisation. As usual, our industry has shown its innovation and resilience during these times and has powered through with support from loyal customers and fantastic staff.

Vape shops in general tend to be independently owned businesses that have not been able to open and trade. With rent and overheads to contend with it has not been an easy time for shop owners. Business grants and loans have been made available during this time to help ease the burden, links to these can be found here. Vape shop owners have had to adapt to the current situation and have excelled in this, turning to open online order avenues, delivery options and click and collect to allow them to still service their local area. Many shops have employed the use of social media to keep their customers up to date with the changing restrictions, as well as inform them of stock updates and the methods their customers have available to them to still shop with their favourite local establishment. Be this a phone number they can call to order and pay, to announcing the launch of their ecommerce websites. The innovation and ability to adapt have been remarkable in the current changing landscape. For some customers, nothing will ever beat the experience of going into a physical shop, getting help and advice from staff, being able to see and feel hardware before purchase and having that face to face shopping experience. This will return in the future but for now, you cannot fault the work and innovation of bricks and mortar shops to not let the current climate close their doors permanently.

Online sales have soared by an estimated 30% over the pandemic, as people have been asked to stay indoors and not make unnecessary journeys, many have turned to online shopping. Ecommerce was already pre-established within the vaping industry and has been the preferred way for many customers to shop for many years. For ecommerce companies, their main change during this period was social distancing and the safety of their warehouse staff while they carried out their roles. Most companies rose to the challenge and have been quite prosperous during this time. There has been a significant rise in online orders placed during the pandemic. This can be attributed to “panic buying” in the early stages of the pandemic but is now more readily attributed to the shift in buying habits as customers become used to the “new normal” and the convenience of online shopping for their vape supplies.

There have been delays in the delivery of orders, but this is more to do with the couriers, who have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic, keeping the country well-stocked and safe. Staffing issues have plagued courier companies as social distancing measures have been implemented, with the number of staff on site needing to be regulated and drivers needing to exercise extreme caution on delivery. This has caused inevitable delays. However as ecommerce companies and couriers have adjusted at a rapid rate to the changing landscape of the world, these issues have subsided and will dissipate over time. Companies needed to react so quickly and efficiently to the current climate, there would always be some bumps in the road although they can be considered to be extremely minor in the wider scope of things.

During the first stages of the pandemic in 2020, it became apparent there would be shortages of Vegetable Glycerine within the vaping industry. Vegetable Glycerine is a by-product of the manufacture of biodiesel, during the pandemic it became economically unviable to produce, as such the production facilities closed for several months. This was in part due to the price of crude oil plummeting due to several industries grinding to a halt and more people than ever before working from home, cutting the need to commute for none essential reasons. Biodiesel was always used as a cheaper option than crude oil, with the demand lower the cost of crude oil plummeted into minus figures. Due to this Vegetable Glycerine was not being produced and manufacturers of e-liquid needed to make a calculated decision on how much they would need to purchase to see them through the pandemic. In recent weeks we have now seen the resurgence of the manufacture of crude oil and biodiesel. This is due in part to the boom of ecommerce. More people are choosing to do more of their shopping online, meaning delivery vehicles need fuel to be able to complete their jobs.

Bottles and other materials used to create e-liquid also became either difficult to source or financially unviable. China as we know is a huge hub for manufacture in the vaping industry, with most hardware being made in Shenzhen, many of the bottles and lids used also come from China. During the first stages of the pandemic, the factories that produced all of these components were shut down as the country dealt with the spread of the virus. This meant companies could not replenish their stock of bottles and components, which meant they may need to slow their production and output. It also meant that physical shops and online retailers could not get the stock they needed whether it be mods, tanks or any other hardware. They saw delays in releases of new hardware to the market as well as issues with restocking. This was also combined with the logistical issues that made the transport of these items a financial issue for some companies due to the reduced availability of planes and freighters in operation at the time. This disrupted the whole supply chain out of China, with higher tariffs put on these imports by shipping companies to cover their costs, making the whole logistical chain more expensive and less efficient as a whole.

Due to the travel restrictions felt across the world and social distancing, vape conventions were largely cancelled. Vape conventions are the industry’s opportunity to meet, converse and have that one on one contact with customers. All large events have been put on hold for the time being and with the average vaping convention attracting around 20,000 visitors, it was in the best interests of everyone’s health that these were put on hold.

There is an end in sight and a return to a semblance of normality in the coming year. With the development of vaccines and their subsequent rollout across the world, along with lateral flow and rapid testing, we should start to see a return to normality as these procedures and rollouts start to gain momentum. We hope to shortly see a return to the normal operation of vape shops, live vape events and a return to “business as usual”.