In April, Edgewood Consulting talked to leading food, drug, mass, club and online retailers, 25 VPs, Directors, Category managers and senior buyers across several food, OTC, HBA and perimeter categories for their thoughts and perspectives on the Covid 19 crisis impact on retail and they were exceedingly honest. How do retailers feel?  What are their priorities?  What lessons have they learned or want to learn and what help do they want most? Here’s what we learned.

Crisis Mode - Pandemic Retail Impact

The Covid-19 crisis hit US retail stores in late February and early March, 2020 and resulted in more fear, chaos and disruption to the economy, shoppers and consumer goods than 9/11. Panic buying led to long lines followed by rampant out of stocks across several categories, many which persist over two months later.

“I don't recall ever not having toilet paper in all our stores. Not only that, paper towels, water, rice, flour, etc. at same time!”

“This must be what life during wartime is like”

This crisis also drove a surge in demand for ecommerce buying, home delivery and pick and click curbside pick-up service. This sudden demand caught the industry by surprise with many retailers caught unprepared and ‘behind the curve’. Even the most fortunate and prepared retailers struggle to scale up capacity to meet new demand.

“Our web business has gone up a lot. Don't have numbers yet… Stores are opposite -50% - 60% less traffic, much less # trips.”

“Our pickup service has tripled. We launched this at just the right time.”

“My only wish is that if we were better prepared and better equipped, we could service our customers.”

Brick and mortar in-store shopping is still the predominant way most people shop, but social distancing and personal safety concerns have affected the shopping experience in many ways. Trips and traffic have declined and new pressures on stores range from staffing, supply chain, checkout systems and safety to name a few.

“Working to reduce risks to shoppers and employees (aisle flow solutions, self-checkout)… average time spent in store will very likely be reduced”

“Social distancing will stay for a long period of time. Need to build better check out systems and traffic control at club level.”

Immediate priorities retailers are grappling with in the midst of this crisis are led by

  • Safety - for store associates and for shoppers
  • Product supply/reducing OOS
  • Scaling up capability and capacity to handle higher demand for online order/store pick-up or delivery

Some larger, well-heeled manufacturers leapt on the opportunity to help retailers in their time of need. Retailers shared the creative and resourceful tactics some manufacturers employed while jumping to their assistance with an empathetic, customer and shopper-focused approach. Examples like:

  • Financial support to retailers extending payment terms
  • Guarantee/protecting retailers against over-stocks
  • Promo support directly to shoppers to help attract/retain them
  • Provided retailers with earliest warnings on crisis and provided best in class fill rates (both mfg & delivery) of core items when crisis ensued
  • Increased DSD delivery frequency, even twice a day to some stores to minimize OOS
  • Supported retailers’ staging areas to facilitate curb-side pick-up
  • Offered assistance to provide Covid testing and ultimately will support vaccinations (in-store clinics) when time comes
  • Donated to food banks, agencies, etc. in retailers’ names providing free PR to build banner equity with community
  • Provided information on how to treat associates, improve work conditions, help shoppers regarding virus safety & quarantine

“From the beginning (early) anticipated coming shortage and began to help us carry extra inventory… Wasn't enough but it did help us.”

“Helped us by stocking our shelves with product from outside of the country.”

“Provided free goods to food banks, our warehouse staff, other groups - health care workers and first responders on our behalf.”

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