It’s not just national chains and regional grocers adjusting to the new normal of the COVID-19 world.
Across the nation, independent grocery stores, mom-and-pop shops, and local food markets are seeing a similar surge in sales as consumers stocked up for lockdowns.
Now, as trips slow but the need for groceries remains, these small operations are going the extra mile and getting creative to accommodate customers.
Adjusting Store Hours
One of the most common changes we’re seeing with grocery stores is the shift in hours.
Many stores are opening earlier to accommodate the most at-risk for this virus: the elderly, the immune-compromised, and the disabled. Some places are even going to the length of having an associate stand outside like a bouncer – only allowing so many people in the store at a time for social distancing purposes.
Stores are also closing earlier than normal. This accomplishes a few things: minimizing staff for safety purposes and giving additional time for cleaning and sanitizing as well as restocking.
Increase in Demand
The early rush to stores has left shelves bare at local grocers. Toiletries, cleaning supplies, chicken, and dairy items are in high demand. While this is happening nationally as well, it’s a huge concern for these smaller operations.
Owners are seeing fresh shipments disappear in less than an hour, like at West’s Shurfine Food Market in Honeoye, NY.
Often, restocking shipments for these stores only come a couple times a week. It leaves these stores unsure of what they’ll get, when they’ll get it, and if it will be enough to cover the current demand.
To combat this, stores have been limiting purchases and holding a quantity of stock out of sight, requiring customers to ask for the items and only being provided with what they need. More than the national chains, some of the smaller stores are the only source of these items for a community. They need to spread the love to as many people as possible in this time of uncertainty.
The fear of spreading the virus has these local stores rethinking their standard processes.
“Drop and go” deliveries have become more common, where delivery drivers leave shipments in designated areas to avoid additional contact. This is requiring stores to have more employees help with the unloading process.
Employees are now more involved with self-service counters like the deli. Many stores are either doing away with the touch screens or asking employees to help lessen the contact among customers.
In order to avoid contaminations, many small shops who once promoted “going-green” initiatives by encouraging customers to bring their own bags are now asking customers to refrain. It’s also encouraged that the customer loads their own groceries.
Going the Extra Mile
All these initiatives take a ton of effort from already-stressed small operations. Will they see a benefit to their hard work once we’re on the other side of this? We sure think so.
Take Grocery Outlet Bargain Market for example. In a report that came out in late March, the California-based company has seen a major increase in sales since the start of the pandemic. Many new customers are coming to these stores which is generating great brand awareness. Customers who may have never thought to shop at these smaller shops will stay loyal to them when the pandemic is over.
Small stores are stepping up in big ways. As community hubs, they see it as their responsibility, and we’re seeing these efforts pay dividends to them.
There are opportunities for brands to deepen relationships with these stores by helping ease their burden. If a company can help fill in delivery or availability gaps where other brands can’t, it’s a huge sales opportunity that can earn a loyal customer well after the pandemic is over.