There was no way anyone could have anticipated or prepared for the mass hysteria and trepidation that has flooded Britain in the past few weeks. And there’s definitely no way that our supermarkets could’ve prepared for what would be the most chaotic retail environment seen in modern history.
It started with loo roll, hand sanitizer and paracetamol, and before anyone knew what had happened, there were unprecedented nation-wide shortages all over the country, throughout Europe and across the world.
Social media feeds were rife with real-time footage documenting snaking queues in car parks, trolleys towered high with non-perishables, and row upon row of empty, baron shelves. Shoppers woke at the crack of dawn to snatch the last remaining snack in sight. Media outlets swamped our computers and our televisions with screaming headlines and agonising images. “Stop panic buying” was all we were told, providing little comfort. But we couldn’t. We can’t. We won’t.
Overnight, supermarkets became an essential service. Supermarket staff were categorised as key workers. They scrambled to hire tens of thousands of recently-made-redundant Britons. And very quickly, us mere patrons realised for the first time, quite simply, just how reliant we are upon our supermarkets. A luxury we once took for granted in the first world, we now realised was an undisputed lifeline.
The supermarket for many is now one of the only occasions to look forward to. Whereby once upon a time, standing in line to pay for groceries was considered a tedious task, the experience has now become a welcomed escape from the confinements of our four walls at home.
From a marketing point of view, communication and tone from the supermarket has also adapted alongside its supply chain to the changing environment. Supermarkets have started to build a sense of community among shoppers and humanise their language when addressing consumers. They’ve started to speak like a local council addressing voters as opposed to a corporation instructing consumers. Email communications have worked to build levels of empathy and understanding with shoppers, asking them to practise flexibility and to act in consideration when trying to book online. Competitiveness has taken a back seat, as the supermarkets united as one big family to work together and to address the country in the form of an open letter, titled ‘Working to Feed the Nation.’ More recently, Tesco released an advertisement announcing ‘More time for the NHS’. The ad stated they would prioritise NHS workers for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with a browsing hour before checkouts open on Sundays. The ad further calls for the public to please respect them, and to avoid shopping during these dedicated times. It’s yet another beautiful example of the role and responsibility supermarkets have adopted in order to care for the country and treat us collectively not as customers, but as people.
On a more practical level supermarkets began to prioritise customers. Instead of letting the public ravage their shelves, they gave the elderly and the NHS a dedicated hour each morning to shop. They’ve enforced social distancing and policed queues outside their stores, ensuring everyone maintained a safe distance from each other and that calmness and a sense of security was achieved. They restricted how many items shoppers could buy, to assure us all that there was and would be enough to go around. They even gave free flowers and discounts to staff of the NHS.
There’s no way they could have prepared, but the resulting response and reaction from supermarkets has been extraordinary. They have become one of the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They have embraced their new role as the centre of the community, supported the nation, and become a voice of reason during this sea of uncertainty. And for this, we thank them.