Shop for the week, not the moment: Moving beyond panic buying

Article by Martyn Jones | 30th April 2020

For the past six weeks, the UK has been locked in quarantine. During this unprecedented time, the mindset of UK customers has changed dramatically.

At first, we saw periods of panic buying. When the lockdown began on 23rd March, many felt the urge to buy large quantities of basic supplies. Consumers were unaware of stock levels, had planned poorly and were afraid of the unknown. This led to about a fortnight of firefighting from many UK stores, as they hurried to replenish exhausted stocks.

Thankfully, the worst panic buying behaviour has now subsided. But what can we learn from it?

Customers now have a responsibility to plan their shopping. The lockdown won’t lift straight away, and social distancing is here to stay.

Normality is still a long way away, and going to the shop every day won’t be a reality any more. We need to encourage people to shop, plan and travel responsibly. Get just what you need, when you need it.

This will ease pressure on the retail front line as a whole, but will increase pressure on mid level stores.

Shoppers previously shopped around at high or low priced stores for different items. Now, the pressure of the pandemic has driven most shoppers back to the ‘middle’ – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. These core shops provide everything they need. Panic buying has created a generation of customers who want to do their weekly shop in one place once again.

This is good for the supply chain, good for retailers and ultimately good for customers.

We should all shop for the week, not the moment.

A lot has been said recently about changing patterns of consumer behaviour. Over the last decade, customers have begun to shop more frequently and have purchased food in smaller quantities. However, following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK and the subsequent lockdown, a domino effect occurred. People over-planned and over-bought out of a desire to keep their family safe. Shortages in store then exacerbated this, creating a ripple effect of further panic buying.

I spoke to VoCoVo’s own Olivia, who was a store manager before she joined the team. She spoke about the pressure of relying on a single daily delivery,

“Most UK stores have a single daily delivery. Shelves are often short by the end of the shopping day, in fact this is considered normal. When I was a store manager, it was considered normal to have reduced levels of stock by the close of the day.”

Stores have done an amazing job to source more stock and replenish throughout the day. Despite stores limiting purchases of core items or customer time in store, there have still been shortages. By paying close attention to stock and working closely with suppliers, stores are beginning to address this. Olivia had this to say,

“Working with suppliers is not an easy process. In fact, supply chain management is one of the hardest jobs in any shop. It’s tough to supply different requirements at different times of the day to individual customers. With one delivery per day, refreshing the shelves only once per day is no longer enough.”

What can we learn from this?

Stock amounts won’t change but we do need to provide for a later shopper and stock shelves smartly. Deliveries could now run at different times throughout the day. At VoCoVo we’re working on developing a new smart shelving product, designed to update colleagues in real time when products run low.

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