“Please shop considerately.” That is the message springing up in supermarket foyers all over the UK, as retailers try to calm shoppers and quell the panic-buying frenzy.
Let’s hope it starts to resonate with shoppers soon. In the difficult weeks and months ahead, supermarkets and local shops are set to be reinforced as key pillars of society as we battle coronavirus. As well as persuading shoppers to be more considerate, supermarket chains need to quickly find ways to ease the pressure on staff. That is going to take more than just putting limits on goods.
From what I have seen on social media and numerous store visits in the past few days, store staff are doing remarkable work in the face of extreme circumstances that no retail employee could ever have envisaged when they took up a job in their local Tesco, Aldi or Spar. Many retail staff will be part-time. Some will be young students trying to help finance their education and this will be a first-ever job. Others may be of a more mature vintage – and may have to step back from a job they love.
Why? Well, it is understood retailers warned the government this week that the pressure was starting to tell on many workers in the sector. As well as fear of contracting the virus, staff are facing abuse from irate customers who can’t get what they need, or who take umbrage at being asked to limit what they are piling into their trolleys. One store even saw a customer trying to force their way into a store room in search of missing products. All this is leading to some staff not wanting to come to work, just when they are needed most.
We must do more to support retail staff as customers but equally retailers need to do more to protect staff and most importantly ensure they are truly valued.
It was great to see Morrisons today confirming new policies to support staff. These include asking customers to pay, if possible, by card or smartphone, issuing hand sanitiser to checkouts, redeploying vulnerable colleagues and opening a colleague hardship fund.
But can more be done in stores to impact shopper behaviour? More posters would help, but perhaps in-store radio could be better used to help reinforce messages around panic buying and ensuring respect for fellow shoppers and staff.
And when deliveries do arrive, retailers can’t keep dumping it all on shelf and allowing a free for all. Key products should be cordoned off, if necessary, with staff handing out packs in a more orderly fashion.
We are all learning as we go and adapting to a fast-changing situation, retailers included. So, thank you to all retail staff who are doing sterling work right now. Good luck for the weeks ahead and let’s hope there will be some well-deserved bonuses when we do eventually come through this.
Follow Ronan on Twitter: @ronyhegs