More than ten times as many customers wanted to order online from Spar at the start of the pandemic. The company managed to accomplish not all, but 70 percent more with its existing capacities. "By now we have got used to the heavy workload; the demand has also decreased, and currently we are testing pick-up points in the countryside," Gabriella Heiszler, managing director of SPAR Magyarország Kereskedelmi Kft told növekedés.hu.
How did the turnover of Spar develop during the pandemic?
We experienced the biggest increase in March, when consumer demand rose dramatically for two or three weeks. I would say we practically brought Easter forward to March; but the shopping spree had eased a little by April. Altogether these two months brought the numbers that we had expected, albeit with a significant time shift. Purchases fell in May and June, not only from the previous two months, but also compared to the same period last year. On the other hand, July seems promising.
How did the turnover change in the various types of retail outlets?
It is not so much the type of outlets that is decisive, but rather the location. We saw a serious decline in the Spar and Interspar stores located in shopping malls during March and April; and this trend still continues today.
There was also a significant decline in downtown locations, near schools, government offices, or office buildings. We saw a decline in the city centre and an increase in the outer districts.
The turnover at petrol stations increased; due to the importance of convenience shopping and the fact that contact between people is limited there, they performed well.
The role of credit card payment grew: before the pandemic, 44% of transactions took place in this way, which rose to 55% by April. I hope that this will remain the case or it will even continue to grow in the future, because card payments are not only convenient, but they also make the processes faster.
What products were most sought after during the pandemic?
All of a sudden, everyone started baking. During the period of two months we sold 2.5 times more yeast than we normally do. There was only one product group which did even better: cleaning products, where the increase was more than 2.5 times. Turnover of staple foods such as rice, flour and pasta rose by 170%. We sold 140% more of the various comfort foods and crisps, as people found it important to comfort themselves.
With the experience you have now, how are you preparing for a possible second wave?
We have specified 180 basic items, from which we will be increasing our stock by the end of September.
Was there any change in the number of employees during the pandemic?
In the peak period in March, we hired hundreds of new employees, who, unfortunately, we later had to dismiss, because we realized that there would not be enough demand to justify their employment. Wages were raised in January, and during the most intense period of the pandemic, our colleagues were given an extra bonus for their hard work.
To what extent can you enforce the regulations in your stores?
It is very difficult because we are not an authority: we cannot ask anyone for their ID to check their age; or we cannot oblige anyone to wear a facemask. We can politely ask people, but we can’t sanction them if they don’t comply. In other countries, the regulations are different: it’s each individual’s responsibility to wear a mask and they are fined if they are not wearing it.
As for our colleagues, we do regular screening: in every store we check the staff’s temperature; and in the logistics centre, as a lot of people are working there at the same time, especially during shift changes, we use a thermal camera.
What technological innovations did you introduce due to the virus?
We have implemented many improvements in our internal logistics processes regardless of the pandemic, with the aim of improving the efficiency of ordering and delivery. Other investments that we had planned for this year have been rescheduled.
Has the operation of the webshop been modified in any way, on the basis of the experience you gained during the pandemic?
A lot of people started to do their shopping online: more than ten times as many customers wanted doorstep delivery than before.
We managed to deliver roughly 70% more than we had thought we would, but not ten times as many.
Now the webshop is working perfectly well: we got used to the heavy workload, and the demand has decreased by now, so you can even place an order today to be delivered tomorrow if you want. So far, the main focus of online delivery has been Budapest and its outskirts, however, with a higher number of delivery trucks we will be able to deliver to a larger area around the capital. The question is how the demand for deliveries will develop in the countryside. We are currently testing pick-up points in Tatabánya, where we want to see how goods can be collected at pick-up points instead of being home delivered.
What is the proportion of Hungarian products and suppliers in the stores?
93% of the products are invoiced in Hungary.
For example, if we buy chocolate from Nestlé Hungária, we do not know whether it was made in Hungary or elsewhere. In the case of vegetables and fruits, the place of origin must be indicated. The share of locally produced fruit and vegetables is very high in summer but obviously falls in autumn and winter.
In the spring, we proved that we are able to meet the needs of our customers. I hope that if there is a second outbreak, there will be no panic buying again, as people have already understood that there will be no shortages. While it is important to maintain a balanced demand by customers, we have also demonstrated that although with some difficulty and perhaps a narrower assortment than usual, it was still possible to do all the necessary shopping even in the worst period.