Panic shopping in Gauteng neighborhoods saw popular grocery delivery services such as Checkers Sixty60 and Bottles by Pick n Pay buckle under the load.
Orders for both services were still being prepared and processed in stores throughout Wednesday, suggesting they were inundated with orders early in the morning (or late Tuesday evening).
One might be tempted to describe this as a “problem of the rich”, but given the predictability of these services, their low cost and their convenience, they have become incredibly popular across the country.
For some, who may be confined to their homes due to isolation or other medical reasons, or who cannot make it to a store, these delivery services are a lifeline.
After the modest launch of Sixty60 in November 2019, the service has been aggressively rolled out. Prior to this week’s unrest, the service was available in more than 150 stores across the country.
Industry sources suggested a month or two ago that Sixty60 was delivering 10,000 orders per day.
Well before lunchtime on Wednesday, Sixty60 posted a “Currently Closed” message for several verified addresses in the greater Johannesburg area.
In areas affected by unrest and looting (and those nearby), the service displays a message indicating that it is “Temporarily Closed”.
In a message to some customers, Checkers said: “Johannesburg stores have reached their maximum capacity and orders will not be delivered until tomorrow. ”
Mistakes and failures on the Bottles of Pick n Pay app are less gracious, with mixed messages.
Some delivery slots appeared to be available Wednesday afternoon in much of Johannesburg.
Its online shopping site was, however, having problems with some orders to be delivered to Johannesburg before proceeding to checkout. It is not clear whether this affected buyers generally or only in specific areas. Its Click and Collect service had slots available for Friday at stores in Johannesburg.
Woolworths’ online grocery delivery service provided the next available time slot in a Johannesburg suburb on Monday, July 19. In some tested areas of Gauteng, however, it is as far away as Saturday (July 24).
He says “Customers in affected areas will unfortunately find that:
- Fewer home delivery slots are available;
- Fewer Click & Collect time slots are available; [and]
- Some fashion, beauty and housewares orders may be delayed.
One Cart, which is an independent supplier who selects and fulfills orders at partner stores (including some Pick n Countries), has also been overwhelmed by demand. As of noon Wednesday, his next Sandton area delivery time slot was Thursday morning.
Dis-Chem suspended its DeliverD on-demand service in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal earlier this week.
It’s not all panic buying
However, the problem is not just excessive demand.
The staff of the stores were affected. Some employees were unable to get to work safely. This affects operations throughout the store, with fewer staff available to fill cashier positions, restock shelves and pick delivery orders.
In some cases known to Moneyweb, staff from stores affected by the looting have been seconded to other stores that do business. This appears to be the exception, with most stores having significantly fewer staff. Woolworths has notices in some stores apologizing for the inconvenience or for certain services not available due to downsizing.
Add to that much higher than normal demand – as shoppers try to stock up with the prospect of looming food shortages – and supermarket retail operations are very strained.
Gauteng’s supply chain did not anticipate this peak and shelves are starting to empty on a daily basis, much like the situation at the start of the initial Covid-19 lockdown last year.
This is especially pronounced in small convenience stores that do not keep a large amount of replacement stock on hand. This is not yet the result of the disruption of the vital N3 link with Durban, although these risks are real if the road remains closed for much longer.
This sharp increase in purchases across the province means that the fulfillment part of the equation with apps like Sixty60 and Bottles is becoming a growing challenge.
The decentralized distribution model on which these applications are built, where orders are fulfilled at the store level, means that stockouts in stores will impact orders.
This means that orders can be placed but items will not arrive because even replacements may not be available.
It will take some time for the overall panic buying situation to normalize, and an industry source says retailers are completely focused on keeping their doors open, shelves stocked, and employee safety.
The damage to the local supply chain in the short term will take some time to be corrected, but huge unanswered questions remain about the damage that the unrest and the seemingly targeted looting and destruction of large warehouses in Durban will mean for supply beyond the next few weeks. .
In urban KwaZulu-Natal, there are no grocery deliveries.
Most of the national chain stores that were not looted are closed.
Very few stores sell essentials, and those that are will be selling their inventory with no prospect of much restocking soon.