Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK retailer responses - March 27 update

Date : 26 March 2020

Nick Gladding

Senior Retail Analyst

As the UK approaches the end of its first week under near lockdown, we look at how the grocery sector is adapting to new operating conditions.

Improving safety for customers and colleagues

Retailers have moved at pace to design and install safeguarding screens to protect customers and colleagues. To reduce the risk of transmission, some retailers are limiting the numbers of customers in-store. Waitrose for instance has introduced marshals to help manage queues, while Tesco is separating entrances and exits at stores where possible. Floor markings are helping customers to keep people a safe distance from each other, while card payments are being encouraged to reduce the risk on contamination that cash carries.

Prioritising shoppers

Most retailers have now implemented priority shopping hours for specific customer groups. Initially, actions focused on improving access for elderly people but quickly, priority shopping times have been introduced for NHS staff. 

Retailers are also evolving their home delivery services to make them more accessible to the shoppers most in need. Morrisons for instance now offers an essentials food box that can be ordered by phone as well as online. At Sainsbury's, shoppers can now register themselves or relatives as priority vulnerable customers online or by phone.  The challenge of course remains creating the capacity to cope with the huge increase in online demand and to provide telephone support. Online shoppers who can visit stores are being encouraged to do so to alleviate pressures.

Relieving pressure on stores

All major retailers have launched recruitment campaigns to hire staff to cope with much higher levels of demand. Tesco is seeking an additional 20,000 temporary staff, Aldi 5,000, Morrisons 3,500, and Lidl 2,500. To date, some 44,000 workers are being sought across the sector, and processes are being streamlined to speed up recruitment.

Absorbing stock from the foodservice channel

With pubs and restaurants closed, some retailers are selling on food service lines. Brakes has partnered with Sainsbury's to sell its own label food in 10 stores and has scope to expand the trial if successful. Tesco also has the ability to divert Booker lines through its Extra stores.

Supporting charities

The pandemic has also led to acts of generosity. With food banks more needed than ever, Asda is donating £5m to charities Fair Share and The Trussell Trust to support the most vulnerable. John Lewis Partnership is making donations to five charities to support immediate action in response to the pandemic. Tesco has responded by giving away flowers to thank NHS workers shopping at its stores.

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