Sars epidemic puts supply chain under pressure

UK retailers are resorting to hi-tech solutions to supply chain problems created by the Sars epidemic.

Many store groups sourcing from China and the Far East have already banned travel to the region, and have turned to video conferencing and product tracking to ensure supply lines continue to function.

New Look managing director Phil Wrigley said staff and supplier safety was an 'utter priority' and, although samples were still being flown to the UK, Far Eastern suppliers were dissuaded from attending the retailer's autumn/winter preview.

Wrigley said increased use of video conferencing links and product tracing systems would surmount a travel ban on New Look staff that was introduced on Wednesday. 'We have enough investment in technology to do without face-to-face meetings,' he said.

With six B&Q stores in China and a buying office in Hong Kong, Kingfisher is also reliant on video conferencing, and the comparatively old-fashioned telephone. The retailer claimed trade in the region was unaffected, despite the crisis.

The World Health Organisation now estimates the global cost of Sars could top US$30 billion (£18.97 billion).

In Hong Kong, an emergency support package has been introduced, which includes rent reductions and tax breaks for retailers.