Editor’s Note: Local Fred Meyers Store Manager Henry Johnson has more than 30 years of retail experience and has been giving people an insider’s view via extended Facebook posts of what he’s seeing as the nation comes to grips with COVID-19. Although he works at the local store, the posts are not being done on behalf of the company. He’s allowed The Pilot to print these in the newspaper.

Here are a few of his thoughts from a retail perspective on the COVID-19 event:

I know many people are frustrated by long lines, busy aisles and empty shelves. So, to give you all some insight.

Empty shelves are a reflection of tight supply chains or tight business operations. Most grocery retailers only have 2-3 days or less of a product on hand, warehouses about 7-10 days, fresh products can be even less.

Logistically there is an amazing ballet of growing, manufacturing, shipping, warehousing and merchandising that flows flawlessly behind the scenes. It is only in times of weather or unexpected demand (like we are experiencing today) when this dance falters and is exposed for others to see.

In retail, we use a variety of tools to anticipate the demand for products and services. This includes average movement of goods, tracking responses to advertising, third-party data, customer counts by day and time and much more. We then place orders and write schedules based on this data weeks, months and sometimes year(s) in advance.

Typically the biggest interruption to the chain is the weather in the growing fields. But when an event ruins the data or estimates then things get crazy!

Events such as "Black Friday" or holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas can be hectic but are rarely crazy. This is because we know when it will be happening and what people will be looking for.

The COVID-19 event is an outlier. Not just because of the horrible impact it can have on each of us or our families, but because of how quickly it has spread and how scary its potential can be.

Know that retailers, suppliers, manufacturers, growers, etc. simply are not prepared for this kind of demand and as such you are seeing the ripple effects of customer behavior across the entire supply chain.

For example, the most popular sizes of toilet paper are emptied from the warehouses, then the second-most popular, then the third. What you see now in stores is quite simply whatever retailers have been able to obtain from their primary source (manufacturers or distributors) from existing orders or it is possibly something that they found on the secondary market (wholesalers).

Meanwhile, other things that are grown then processed are being hit hard, too. I am talking about things like rice, beans, canned vegetables, etc. Retailers are selling through inventories that are supposed to last until the next run of harvest and production is complete.  (Don’t forget items manufactured, especially in China. Factories were closed which will create shortages of durable goods in the future.)

So, why do people panic buy? I think it comes down to a few basic elements. 1) Fear of the unknown, for example, what happens if I am quarantined for two weeks at my house? 2) Fear of missing out, for example, if I don't stock up now I might not be able to get basic necessities later. 3) Other people are doing it so I should, too. These areas, combined with love for our families and our lifestyles can be extremely compelling!

So, there is some insight into the world of retail, especially in times of emergency. However, to leave you with one last thought, know that every retail employee you see is working hard to keep their store in stock for you and their families.

Many of my employees and others throughout the retail, medical and other supply chains are working extra shifts, long hours and in areas, they aren't trained in just so that you can find the things that you need.

So please take a moment to thank them for what they are doing, not just today, but every day you are in a store, office or business.


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