Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK retailer responses

Date : 23 March 2020

Nick Gladding

Senior Retail Analyst

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis deepens we’ve summarised the latest responses from food retailers in the UK, to help ensure stores function as efficiently as possible and food and groceries remain accessible to all.


  1. Managing Demand
    Retailers are taking action to prevent excessive stockpiling but also need shoppers to exercise self-restraint to ensure supplies do not run out.
  2. Refocusing stores
    By closing facilities such as cafes and counters, stores can concentrate resources on maximising availability.
  3. Customer prioritisation
    Retailers are being proactive in finding ways to prioritise specific customer groups but still need customer co-operation for policies to work.
  4. Enhancing hygiene
    Stepping up hygiene is vital to reassure customers and protect colleagues.
  5. Providing for social distancers
    Special processes to support those who need to social distance will become more important as the virus becomes more widespread.
  6. Supporting suppliers
    Retailers recognise the challenges faced by businesses they work with. Offering support to these companies can benefit them too.


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Managing demand from shoppers

UK food retailers are taking action to try to keep shelves stocked with food, give time to clean stores properly, and ensure vulnerable shoppers are able to get their shopping quickly.

Many stores are taking steps to stop customers from buying excessively by placing limits on the number of items that can be purchased. Stores are also reducing opening hours to ensure there is time for thorough cleaning. This includes Asda’s decision to close its 24-hour stores from midnight to 6 am, and Tesco’s decision to close all its stores from 10 pm.

Retailers and suppliers are also deciding to cut back on ranges to improve the availability of key product lines. One example is Morrison’s decision to reduce bakery lines to try to ensure there is food on shelves for shoppers.


Refocusing grocery stores

Retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Asda are temporarily closing facilities such as cafes and fresh food counters to focus more on core functions.

Retailers are also going on major recruitment drives to keep stores functioning.

Prioritising customers

Retailers are taking steps to ensure shoppers and keyworkers are prioritised at a time when there is a hugely increased demand for food and groceries.

Retailers are creating a range of innovative responses for shoppers who cannot reach stores. For example, Morrisons now offers a new food box service. Boxes are designed for meat-eaters or vegetarians and are designed to provide a balanced diet for two people for a week.

How retailers are improving hygiene instore

Efforts are being taken to ensure high-traffic areas and equipment that comes into contact with shoppers are cleaned more frequently.

At some stores, shoppers are being asked to pay by card or phone rather than cash to reduce the risk of spreading Coronavirus (COVID-19), though cash is still accepted.

Morrisons has also taken the step of installing safety screens at checkouts to make shopping safer for customers and staff.


Providing for social distancers in store

Whether it is providing in-store floor markings like the examples from Poundland and Tesco below, or removing the need for hand-to-hand contact in deliveries. Retailers are finding new ways to ensure shoppers can maintain a safe distance from other people both in-store and at home.

Supporting suppliers

Retailers are developing new solutions in recognition of the immediate challenges facing their partners in the supply chain.

This includes moving to immediate payments for some suppliers and reclassifying suppliers so more can benefit. Some retailers are also making changes to support business tenants and secondments for workers recently made redundant.

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