Weather can be a friend or foe for supermarkets. A beautiful weekend forecast in the spring, summer or fall could drive shoppers to a store for an entertaining opportunity. While hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, tornados and snowstorms also bring consumers to the store; these weather-related events can be less zen for shoppers and store employees alike. We’ve all seen apocalyptic-looking photos of barren grocery store shelves before a storm fall.
According to Justin Behar, CEO and co-founder of Quri, a company dedicated to providing shopper insight through in-store data, retailers and manufacturers can both help avoid out-of-stock disasters in stores with a little preparation.
Since hurricane season will not officially end until Nov. 30 and the Farmers’ Almanac predicts an active storm track for Winter 2017, now might be an ideal time for retailers to establish, revisit or re-evaluate their plans for weather-related surge times. Behar offers some tips for retailers below:
GHQ: How do weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms impact the grocery store sales?
Justin Behar: Unplanned surge periods in general, including hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, snowstorms and tornados, have a big impact on three broad grocery categories. First and foremost: water and shelf stable beverages. Residents living in areas prone to weather related events anticipate problems with their water supply and stock water heavily not just for drinking, but also for cleaning and personal hygiene. We also want the comfort of our favorite soft drink during the downtime of a major storm.
Second, we see pantry loading among shoppers for shelf stable products that will provide nutrition, but also taste good. Power outages heavily impact modern kitchen appliances, especially refrigerators, and temporarily reverse the consumers’ trend from fresh perimeter back to shelf stable center store products. Products such as canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, cookies and crackers, dried fruit like raisins or prunes, healthy snack bars, and salty snacks that don’t need refrigeration and can last several days or longer top the shopping list of weather impacted shoppers.
Finally, supplies of bleach, first aid kits, batteries, insect repellant, sturdy tape, paper products for eating and cleaning, personal care items like wipes, soap, and toothpaste, and even ice for the freezer and fridge to preserve food in the event of power outage also make the emergency shopper list.
GHQ: What do retailers need to know in preparing for these kinds of weather events?
Behar: Unplanned surge periods (weather-related events) are more frequent and more intense today due to global climate change than ever before. Retailers can help their communities, and their business, by knowing buying habits ahead of unplanned surge periods and having established weather-related merchandising practices to serve shopper’s needs. Category management leaders could help in this endeavor for categories that see sales spikes during emergencies. For example, pallets of water near the entrance to avoid congestion and out of stocks, recommendations and displays for healthy shelf stable products, and pre-packed “emergency supplies” including flashlights, batteries, bleach, first aid kits, etc., to allow hurried emergency shoppers to get what they need form a single or display shelf location. The key is to serve the needs of shoppers in this time of stress, and earn loyalty to your store in the long run by serving the community first, but your own long-term business interests also.
GHQ: What expectations do consumers have from retailers during these times? How can retailers best meet to those expectations?
Behar: During an emergency, consumers expect what they always expect, a well-organized store with product on shelf and good customer service. The issue is that failure by the retailer at this moment to serve the shopper will likely have a heightened and prolonger negative impact on the shoppers' store loyalty. For shoppers, this is not just any old trip to the supermarket, it’s potentially a life or death situation where failure is not an option.
GHQ: Are there any common mistakes retailers make during rough weather-related occasions? How can stores improve?
Behar: The common mistakes made by retailers during weather-related emergencies amount to lack of merchandising preparation and proper stocking. Most weather related emergencies have at least a few days warning and provide time for a dynamic and nimble team to prepare in the ways we described in this note with emergency merchandising procedures. Essentially, it’s an unplanned surge period for the retailer and a dynamic and nimble reaction is necessary.
One important point to remember is that weather-related store preparation is a shared responsibility with the category captains and leading manufacturers. Performance driven merchandising is increasingly a requirement for physical retail stores to compete, and this technique requires manufacturers and their third party labor forces to plan and act in concert. Weather-related emergencies are a prime example of the need for performance merchandising. It is not only beneficial in general for retailer and manufacturers in the 21st century, but also necessary for the shoppers’ in the affected community.