General Merchandise/HBC

Operators Brace for Potential Tariff Imposition

Trade uncertainty between the U.S. and China has put electronic products in limbo
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO —Merchandising electronic devices is an integral part of many U.S. interstate-positioned convenience stores. These days, that portfolio finds itself in the crosshairs of the U.S-China trade imbroglio.
Erik Paalman, category manager of general merchandise for Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America, said the specter of import tariffs comes with the trade uncertainty between the United States and China, with TA closely monitoring the situation.

Electronics products flowing from China to U.S. retailers could incur price increases—now or in the future—if the U.S. were to increase tariffs affecting these goods. “We’re watching what transpires because if tariffs increase and retail prices respond, you’ll see people shy away from buying certain electronics,” Paalman said. 

The chain sells Bluetooth headsets, cellphone charging cords, car cellphone mounting units, GPS devices, dashboard cameras and more, primarily to truck drivers.

In addition to a tariff threat, Paalman said, there’s an ongoing evolution occurring when it comes to the sale of electronics—particularly as products are constantly upgraded to next-generation versions.

In addition, truckers have migrated from manual paper trip logs to electronic logging devices (ELDs), based on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandates. TA offers a wide selection of ELDs, which make it easier to accurately track, manage and share records of duty status data. “ELDs can range from $75 to $200, and the decision-making all depends on how advanced a driver wants or needs to be,” Paalman said.

Tying general merchandise to awareness campaigns also has fueled TA’s position as an advocate for certain causes. One recent success story connected various electronics to January’s “Truckers Against Trafficking” campaign.

“We participate in this initiative because we feel it’s mission-critical to address the human trafficking crisis,” Paalman said. Customers were able to buy various electronic and other general merchandise that was embossed with the Truckers Against Trafficking logo.

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