While lockdown may seem a distant memory, the news in recent weeks has not filled the UK with confidence. If we remember the shambles of empty shelves, queues for checkouts and well, the toilet roll debacle, it’s clear that in the fear there would be nothing left to buy, British consumers entered into a flurry of panic to stock cupboards. 

In the past week alonewe have seen Tesco making a similar move to its rival Morrisons to place limits on the number of items shoppers can buy in a bid to prevent “panic-buying 2.0”. This is perhaps a lesson learned from earlier this year when almost three quarters (72%) of UK shoppers faced shortages of retail products at the start of lockdown, in March.  

But, how can supermarket retailers ensure mass panic does not ensue across the country as a second lockdown is anticipated – can we get ahead to avoid another shortage of goods due to consumers stockpiling? 

While we have seen online sales soar across the fashion, household goods and consumer electronics sectors, supermarkets in particular are embarking in a new challenge; online deliveries. It’s no secret that supply vs. demand for supermarket goods was askew in early lockdown and online delivery slots were like gold dust. 

So, to avoid feeling like we are all stuck in a Groundhog Day nightmare as we continue to face work from home and social distancing measures in the UK, supermarket retailers must take the learnings from this year to hone in on a digital-first approach and most importantly, communicate! 

  • Emphasise the feelings of connection between shoppers: Communicate with your customers on the need for socially responsible behaviour and reminding the country we’re ‘all in this together’ - this can help control purchasing behaviours and avoid empty shelves which we all know cause pandemonium. We saw a series of designs in March that adapted the logos of famous supermarkets to deliver this message. So, it is time to re-engage in marketing efforts that create memorable messages in a bid to change consumer behaviour and bring the country together, albeit at a time where we’re so far apart (cue social distancing pun). 
  • Nailing your online presence: Despite the big four – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – nailing their online presence years ago and owning the majority market share, there’s still work to be done to reassure consumers their needs will be met should a second lockdown ensue, online or not! Embedding digital at the heart of your business strategy, lockdown or no lockdown, will make for a less disruptive customer experience and in turn, help to relieve consumer doubt around product availability.  
  • Learn, acknowledge online and be ready to adapt: As much as we would rather forget traipsing the town for some loo roll and sanitiser, more than one in five households were actually making online orders for groceries in July and the channel accounted for 13% of all grocery sales in the UK. So, online shopping isn’t going away and supermarkets must get the balance of in-store goods vs. online deliveries right – this boils down to the supply chain. Not only to ensure those who are vulnerable and unable to physically shop can access supplies, but to guarantee customer’s in-store shopping experience remains consistent and essential items remain available.  
  • Be brave!!! Aldi was of the few supermarkets yet to transition its services online...until now. The supermarket chain recognised that despite strong business performance, they needed to evolve to meet the new consumer demands after lockdown. Aldi is now trialling a click and collect scheme which is soon to be expanded to 15 stores – “finally” I hear you say!  

So, what can we learn from this? Lockdown has changed consumer shopping behaviour drastically and businesses need to be brave in going that ‘extra mile’. Putting your customers' needs at the forefront of the business strategy and showing investment in them by responding to their new needs will provide a much-needed level of transparency – show your customers you’re willing to invest in them and they’ll listen.