Is Covid-19 Hoarding, Part Deux, on the Way?

The Lempert Report
November 13, 2020

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase here in the US we should get ready for shoppers who want to once again stock up – or hoard – as we see the increased stress about food shortages and the economy flare up.

On Monday Kroger for example announced it will limit purchases of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfecting wipes and hand soaps to two per customer.

HEB also announced limits on the same items but also added rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, first aid and cleaning gloves.

And this comes at holiday time, a different kind of Thanksgiving and Christmas for sure as people pare down the size of their family and friend gatherings and will be forced to, most likely, shift their menus just a bit. We are seeing the downsizing of everything from the turkey itself (from and average of 22 lbs to about 12-13 lbs) to even the size of pumpkin pies.

The good news is that many retailers have been preparing for this next round, and have secured their supply chains and built up inventories so it is unlikely we will again see empty shelves; but we should expect limits and in some cases higher prices. One example is that many of the smaller turkeys and fresh instead of frozen and those sell at a higher price.

The numbers of people shopping online, either for delivery or curbside pick up, continues to increase. And according to the latest Experian “Global Insights Report” 60% of consumers have higher expectations of the digital experience than they did prior to COVID-19. They also found that 61% now order groceries or prepared foods online on a regular basis, which is a 7 point increase since July.

Retailers are faced with two important initiatives: controlling purchases and in-store social distancing as the hoarding begins, and creating a better more meaningful online shopping experience.

The Experian survey also found that one in 3 consumers will only wait 30 seconds or less before abandoning an online banking transaction; which puts even more pressure on the grocery online space.

Just how long will a shopper search on your platform for a gluten-free stuffing for that turkey? If their search results, as mine did, bring up Stove Top stuffing mix as the number one selection (which by the way is the antithesis of gluten-free with enriched wheat flour as its first ingredient) how much confidence did you just lose? And will that shopper decide to try another retailer site? Or just order it from Amazon; which in seconds brought up dozens of gluten-free stuffing mixes   in a Across all of the businesses they surveyed only 24% say they are deliberately making changes to their digital customer journey.

What does hoarding have to do with digital?

A lot. Some grocers, such as Albertsons/Safeway, have been fast-tracking their digital platforms and we should expect that this time around their will not be a 2 or 3 day lead time for grocery orders to be delivered. Instacart, Shipt, Favor and other delivery services have all ramped up their workers to avoid that from happening this time.

Grocery retailers are used to planning ahead for promotions and themed events. Thanksgiving just doesn’t happen; grocers have been planning for 6 months to make sure that this “super” food holiday takes place as frictionless as possible from the turkey farm to the store to the consumer.

But we must communicate better to the consumer this time around. They are still fearful of going into stores with Plexiglas barriers where everyone is wearing a mask. 70% of them are still fearful of, according to the American Physiological Association their basic needs - the availability of and access of food.

Many grocers already have communication plans in place to reassure their shoppers that there will be food on the shelves, we also need to insure that we communicate that there may be shortages and ordering online may alleviate much stress during an already stressful time.