Supermarkets combat corona panic-buying with hours for vulnerable customers


With many of us thinking about the Coronavirus pandemic and little else, it is easy to become swept up in the doom and gloom.

Woolworths Extended Opening Hours 2

The increasing threat of Covid-19 has sparked  ‘panic-buying’ in supermarkets across the globe – with images of empty supermarkets shelves going viral.

While supermarkets work frantically to replenish the shelves and meet consumer demand, it has raised concern that many elderly and vulnerable people in the community are missing out on vital items when they shop. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pasta and tinned foods are among the items that have been in short supply.

In response, Australian grocery store Woolworths were first in line to launch a scheme to help the elderly and disabled do their shopping by holding an exclusive shopping hour for them. Taking place this week and running until at least Friday, the revised opening hours will operate between 7am and 8am.

We’re launching a dedicated shopping hour in our stores to help support the needs of the elderly & people with disability in the community. From tomorrow until at least Friday, we’ll be opening exclusively for them to shop from 7-8am, where permitted.

— Woolworths (@woolworths) March 15, 2020

Woolworths told their shoppers that “this temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before ​our stores officially open – helping them obtain the ​essential ​items they need most in a less crowded environment.”

Woolworths urged their customers to “be mindful of those in our communities who might need extra help at this time”.  Reiterating that “now – more than ever – we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable”.

Woolworths Extended Opening Hours

The initiative has since caught on at several supermarkets across the globe. Coles supermarket chain, also based in Australia, have announced that they will start holding early-morning “community hours”. While UK supermarkets Iceland and Sainsburys will also begin holding special hours for older and disabled customers.

However, while these supermarkets have shown good intentions and a step in the right direction, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. After extending their opening hours, Woolworths received backlash as it was quickly reported that vulnerable customers had to join a 100-metre long queue outside the store. Once inside, the isles were reported to be just as bare. Since, the scheme has been described by shoppers as a ‘PR stunt’.

While we are moving in a positive direction, it is clear to see that brands will need continue navigating their response strategies in a sensitive and authentic manner.

As we await further updates, why not take a look at our guide to tackling Coronavirus in business with virtual events.

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Author bio


A proud Kiwi, living in Sydney with my English husband and two Aussie kids. An avid fan of music festivals, and keen ocean swimmer; I relish connecting talented people, and seeing the magical results they create for clients.