Retailers have begun making extra stock purchases, monitoring staff well-being and advertising home delivery services to help prepare for a potential second coronavirus wave.

This month, the government imposed new measures as the Coronavirus Alert Level rose from three to four, amid fears of a second wave. The restrictions made it a legal requirement for staff to wear face coverings on the shop floor, while a 10pm curfew was imposed on the hospitality industry.

Product availability

Retailers have already started stockpiling following reports that panic buying seen in March had returned to supermarkets amid the government announcement.

Tesco staff said some branches implemented traffic-light entry systems, while Sainsbury’s and Morrisons imposed limits on toiletries and medicines.

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Amrit Singh, of Nisa H & Jodie’s in Walsall told betterRetailing: “We’re covering long-dated products and medicines and have storage space cleared. Customers are buying more, but it’s nothing I can categorically call panic buying. However, it only takes a day for you to be hit and we’ve got two vans ready to help us get going immediately.”

Retailers saw increased sales during the initial stages of lockdown as supermarkets struggled for availability. Singh warned that independent retailers should be prepared for a reversal in that trend. “Everyone has learned from the first time and may go to convenience stores first. Some retailers might get caught out.”

One Premier retailer in Ayrshire has begun limiting toiletries purchases to three per customer in preparation.

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Supplier pledges

Senior wholesale sources confirmed that Tesco has begun buying high volumes of alcohol from brewers. Major suppliers faced criticism at the start of lockdown for limiting promotions and supply to independent stores.

However, when asked by betterRetailing whether the same issues would be repeated, Heinz and Warburton’s pledged to maintain supply.

A Warburton’s spokesperson said: “We have capacity across our 11 bakeries to keep producing to meet demand and we do not anticipate having to make any changes to our product range, or to our customer service levels.”

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A Heinz spokesperson added: “Our stock levels are good, and we are working closely with all our retail and food service partners to meet orders. We support the call to consumers to continue to shop responsibly for the food as there is enough for everyone.”

News and magazines

Newspaper wholesalers have also pledged to maintain availability, following increased demand for home news deliveries from vulnerable and elderly customers isolating.

Smiths News commercial director Simon Gage said: “As part of our ongoing way of working, and in preparation for a second wave, we have worked hard to ensure that our depots are Covid-safe; we have introduced new health-and-safety and hygiene standards, and all locations have been fully risk-assessed.

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“Each site already has a business continuity plan that could be put into effect at short notice if required, and we are working with staff at a local level to ensure they are adhering to any local lockdown restrictions.”

Second wave trends

Retail expert Graham Soult advised that the 10pm curfew on hospitality businesses provided retailers with additional sales opportunities. “Don’t come across as unsympathetic, but retailers can tell their customers through platforms such as social media that they are there for these needs,” he told betterRetailing.

Wholesale expert David Gilroy added: “The other opportunity for retailers won’t have changed from the initial stages of lockdown. Stock up on tinned and ambient groceries as well as any bulk packs that are available.”

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Mike Sohal, of Nisa Dallam Stores in Warrington, said he is developing his home delivery service further using his store’s branding. “It’s a chance for us to stand out, so we’re avoiding platforms such as Uber Eats.

“I expect home delivery to continue its popularity in a second wave.”

Well-being of shop staff

Retailers have been advised to monitor their staff’s health as scientists predict winter is likely to increase the number of coronavirus cases, alongside the traditional flu cases. Steve Bassett, who runs several Londis stores in Dorset, is paying for all his staff to have flu vaccinations.

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Amit Puntambekar, of Nisa Ash’s Shop in Fenstanton, is doing the same. He said: “We don’t have that many staff members. If two are ill, that’s going to have a major impact.”

Trudy Davies, of Woosnam & Davies in Llanidloes, Powys, is to pay for counselling for staff struggling during the pandemic. “It’s showing them that someone cares about how they feel and is prepared to do something about it,” she said.

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