Despite new concerns about recent COVID-19 related restrictions, retailer supply chains are currently robust, products should be readily available at most stores, and experts are asking that shoppers stop panic shopping.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee announced month-long partial business shutdowns, including changes at grocery stores, the closure of gyms, bowling centers, museums and movie theaters, as well as a ban on indoor seating in restaurants. After his announcement, some area residents took to social media to advise their neighbors to “stock-up,” igniting some instances of long lines at certain retailers such as Costco and Walmart.

It appears that this social media “advice,” while perhaps well-intentioned, was off the mark and most likely did more harm than good, triggering instances of panic-buying.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March/April and Inslee issued a ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order, many shoppers panicked and stocked up on what they considered essentials, like toilet paper. Several product categories were limited or depleted.

During a recent visit to a local grocery store, shelves were abundantly stocked with only a few notable categories depleted, like chicken breasts (above), toilet paper, bottled water and bacon.

Here’s why industry and area leaders are saying there is no need to queue-up and buy-up in such a manner now:

    • Inslee’s new restrictions reduce retail shopping capacity in stores from 30% to 25% in the heart of the holiday season, when some retailers see up to 40% of their annual sales. This is not a dramatic decrease from the previous 30% capacity guidelines which have been in effect for the last several months.
    • The most recent orders are different, however, and our knowledge of the virus – including safety precautions like wearing face masks – has increased.
    • Safety at retail stores has increased, with face masks required, social distancing markers, plexiglass screens and more.
    • Experts say that most products should be readily available for the foreseeable future.

But now we’re seeing somewhat of a repeat – long lines wind around outside local Costcos, toilet paper and the other usual items are scarce, and even cans of Spam are hard to find.

From the very beginning of the pandemic last March, retail employees have been on the front lines of serving our communities. Those in the “essential businesses” that stayed open have worked to ensure that Washingtonians have the food and other goods that we all need. Others, who work in “non-essential” retail businesses, struggled financially until those businesses were allowed to reopen in early June.

“If 2020 has proven one thing it’s that retailers are adaptable and resilient. Our industry has continued to innovate like never before to face this great public health challenge,” said Renée Sunde, President and Chief Executive of the Washington Retail Association. “We want to serve our customers safely and be part of the solution. Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and employees.”

In addition to standard protocols required by the CDC, retailers have adopted additional safety measures, including contactless payment methods, extended hours, and appointment-only shopping options. Solutions that merge both physical and digital shopping methods have led to the growth of curbside delivery, buy on-line/pick-up at store, and a variety of personal shipping services. Washington Retail has also participated in public campaigns to encourage customers to wear face masks in stores and other public settings.

“We’ve maintained an open dialogue with the Governor’s office to strategize on solutions that would ensure the safety of both customers and employees,” Sunde added. “Some of those recommendations were included in the new guidance while recommendations for raising in-store capacity were not.

Washington Retail is concerned about the impact of the widespread shutdowns of businesses, including the restaurant industry.

“Retailers and restaurants depend on healthy businesses to help each other,” Sunde said. “The closure of indoor dining and other services will no doubt impact us all.”

Despite the many challenges, retailers have proven to go above and beyond requirements to prioritize the needs of customers, Sunde added.

“As with all Washington residents, our retailers will keep working hard to negotiate the delicate balance of safely serving customer demands while remaining committed to reducing infections and returning us to a way of life we all miss,” she said.

“We encourage shoppers to safely shop at their favorite retailers – many of whom are deploying curbside pick-up, buy online and pick up in store, and home delivery options,” added Mark Johnson, Sr. VP of Policy and Government Affairs for the Washington Retail Association.

“We are optimistic that a widely deployed vaccine will be available soon,” Johnson added.

Established in 1987, the Olympia-based Washington Retail Association is the primary advocacy group for retailers of all shapes and sizes across the State of Washington. It represents more than 4,000 storefronts across the state. More info here: https://washingtonretail.org.