This month, supermarkets in the UK, US and Australia have announced new measures to help their shops meet the needs of customers during the coronavirus crisis, many focusing on the elderly and the vulnerable. In the UK John Lewis Partnership has created a £1 million Community Support Fund, to be distributed by Waitrose shops to local communities, and a support fund to aid staff facing additional costs as a result of the pandemic. Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Iceland, have all dedicated specific times to vulnerable people, the elderly and NHS staff Sainsbury’s and Iceland are limiting online orders to these groups, as well as those that need to self-isolate under the new guidelines. To support this, supermarkets are being given access to a government database of elderly and vulnerable shoppers, so that they can be prioritised. Some companies are even adapting their business functions, such as Morrisons, which has committed to pay its small suppliers immediately to help keep them afloat amid coronavirus uncertainty.
In the US, Stop & Shop, announced one of the most expansive programs. It will reserve 6 am to 7:30 am every day for customers age 60 and older and younger customers with weakened immune systems. The grocer has 413 stores across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Walmart, Target and Wholefoods are starting special hours too although, as yet, on a more limited basis.
In Australia, Woolworths have been one of the first to trial a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly and people with disability in the community.
With a quarter of the world’s population now under lockdown measures to restrict the spread of the virus, many are concerned about how they will get basic supplies. These concerns are largely unfounded, but real issues exist for vulnerable and elderly populations who are asked to take extra measures. In the UK, 1.5 million vulnerable and elderly people have been instructed to self-isolate for up to 12 weeks. While we self-isolate, the role of our public services, and the healthcare service, is more important than ever. We are also seeing businesses fulfil their responsibilities as corporate citizens, to serve these vulnerable populations. The above examples of the supermarkets operating on the frontline to deliver their core services to everyone, while ensuring those most in need get further support, demonstrate this.
In his recent article, How responsible businesses can step forward to fight coronavirus, former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, puts it well: “The greatest business leaders will… play a longer game to serve the societies which host them in this moment of great need, offering people security and stability as an antidote to panic and fear.”