Michelle Russell

COMMENT: British snowfall brings panic buying

By Michelle Russell | 21 January 2013

While high street stores across the UK braced themselves for a slump in shopper numbers ahead of the country's heavy snowfall, it may be that the supermarkets turn out to be the winners here, if indeed, they are well-equipped enough to cope.

A run-of-the-mill trip to the supermarket early last week to pick up a few groceries turned out to be a shopping experience from hell for me. When you struggle to find the end of the queue for the till you know it's either Christmas or consumers are stockpiling for an extreme weather front: the latter of which proved to be the case, and thankfully not a regular occurrence in dear old Blighty.

Figures released last week showed retail sales, excluding fuel, fell by 0.3% in both volume and value terms in December compared to the prior month. The news that heavy snow was on its way would not, therefore, have been welcome news for the high street, only serving to compound the problems it is currently facing.

For supermarkets, however, this may be a different story. British consumers are well known for stockpiling in these situations "just incase", and they remained true to form last week as they stripped supermarkets shelves bare of essential items for fear of being snowed in. There were reports of supermarket "frenzies" across the UK as customers stampeded aisles, filling trolleys with essentials such as bread, milk and vegetables, making for tough stock management.

The snow downfall, which continues in some parts of Britain (and in Birmingham as I write), certainly has an impact on buying patterns and UK supermarkets may well have been seeing pound signs last week as shoppers crammed their trolleys full of groceries. Those that will benefit most, however, will be the ones that can fulfil online orders also.

Some consumers may have thought better of venturing out once the snow hit, and instead played it safe from the comfort of their sofas. Cold weather does offer the temptation to wrap up warm, stay indoors and opt for home delivery instead of having to take the trouble to venture out yourself.

One online retailer well-equipped for the snow is Ocado. A spokesperson for the retailer told just-food today that its fleet of vans was more than equipped for the poor weather, sporting winter tyres to ensure deliveries were made on time. "As you can imagine, there is a huge effort gone into minimising disruption," she said.

A spokesperson for Asda said that, as expected some areas of the country were running slower than others, but that it was still delivering "where possible".

“We’ve seen uplifts in demand for winter essentials like salt, wellingtons, porridge, snuggies, hot water bottles and shovels. In the last two days alone we've sold more than 1 million cans of de-icer," the spokesperson said.

“Our colleagues are going the extra mile to keep our car parks clear and moving, shelves stocked, getting deliveries to our stores and homes via our home shopping service. Customers are also taking advantage of our click and collect service.”

The weather has undoubtedly bought numerous stresses down the supply chain and a wide range of challenges for supermarket retailers, most of which will no doubt be frantically re-stocking shelves and helping ensure supplies and workers reach stores in order to minimise any disruption.

Maybe if the weather in Britain was as predictable as its consumers' reactions to it, then we may all be a little bit more prepared next time.

Sectors: Multichannel, Retail

Companies: Ocado, Asda

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