Operating during a pandemic: applying learnings from retailers that stayed open

The last three months have undoubtedly been some of the most challenging faced by any sector, but retail and convenience in particular faced perhaps some of the steepest challenges.

Before lockdown was officially introduced in the UK, consumers had already started to panic buy and stockpile goods, with photographs of empty shelves reinforcing the demand for essential goods like toilet paper, pasta and flour. Once pubs, bars and restaurants across the country closed at the start of the lockdown, the pressure on grocery retailers increased even further as they simultaneously had to adapt to the new social distancing requirements, while pushing to restock their shelves during a period of unprecedented and sustained demand.

After the initial systems-shock in March, retailers quickly recovered and shelves refilled with many purchasing restrictions lifted, which is testament to the hard work of those in the industry and the resilience of the supply chain systems in place. While we’re unlikely to see a similar situation again in the near future, we’re not quite in a post-pandemic world just yet, and there are many lessons learned which can be applied to other retailers as they start to open up over the coming weeks.

Keep it simple

The first and perhaps most important lesson we learned throughout the lockdown period was the need to keep it simple. During a crisis it’s important to act quickly and with clarity, and it’s only possible to do this when you’re focused on simple solutions that can be understood and implemented by everyone in the process.


While every business will have developed a business continuity plan, it’s not often that they take into account recovery from a global crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, and even less likely that businesses will already be experienced in this area. Leaders in every industry have faced significant challenges as they’ve navigated the last few months, and so learning from peers both in your own sector and others will be an incredibly valuable source of insight and information over the coming months. Likewise the strength of the partnership between Nisa and DHL meant that we could work collaboratively to find solutions in unfamiliar territory and deliver quality service to our partners.

Be realistic

Social distancing measures are something that everyone has quickly had to get to grips with over the last few months, and while initially alien, have been essential to allow work to continue in key sectors. However, there has been an impact on productivity as a result, and this is something that businesses opening up now should consider as part of their planning and forecasting. Whether it’s the impact on your own employees, or a reduction in customers, it’s important to be realistic about what the ‘new normal’ will really look like for a while.


Finally, it’s impossible to understate the importance of thorough and regular communication. Colleagues and their union representatives, partners and other stakeholders all need to be kept in the loop as much as possible to ensure they’re on board with your plans and that their concerns can be addressed early on. As the situation evolves, and new measures are introduced, your staff need to come on the journey with you to make the transition as smooth as possible and minimise any impact to the business.