Retail Stock Management During COVID-19

We recently shared a great infographic from Repsly about four steps for keeping your products in stock during COVID-19 – and we wanted to add our own tips to the conversation.

Stock management is a topic dear to our hearts at Storesupport — it’s one of the areas we see many retailers struggling with during normal times, let alone during a pandemic. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is truly an unprecedented situation and demand for many products is at an all-time high.

As such, effective stock management is even more critical than ever.

Read on for tips that can help keep products on the shelf and decrease stress for your teams at retail and throughout the supply chain.

Tip #1: Identify High-Risk Products

The first step Repsly noted was finding the products that your shoppers are most likely to stock up on.

As the pandemic has been ongoing for more than a month now, you can likely find these products in your own consumer data.

However, there are also common items across the industry that appear to be moving faster. Repsly pointed to items noted by NPR as being particularly popular, including rice, water, canned meat, dried beans, and fresh meat alternatives.

Statistics Canada has released similar data showing what Canadian consumers purchased most in March 2020. By the end of the week of March 11, grocery sales had increased by 38% — 16% higher revenues than the week leading up to the December holiday, the busiest shopping week of the year. Year-over-year sales increased by 46%.

According to the Statistics Canada report, some of the most popular items during the second week of March were:

  • Hand sanitizers
  • Masks and gloves
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Canned vegetables
  • Flour
  • Canned meats
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Frozen fruit
  • And more

Read the full report from Statistics Canada:

By identifying what products are the most popular, you have a starting place to create a stock management plan.

Tip #2: Create a Focused Survey

The second step Repsly identified was using field teams to identify store conditions and stock levels for at-risk products.

Key questions you might ask include:

  1. Are we out of stock or low on stock?
  2. How much stock is left in the backroom?
  3. Were you able to place a replenishment order?
  4. Take a photo of the set.

It can also be helpful to note any issues with stock making it out of the backroom and onto the floor. This was a problem pre-COVID-19 and it continues to be an ongoing issue — particularly with demand so high. There may be stock in the backroom, but if it’s not making it to the shelf it needs to be dealt with.

Phantom inventory is another problem to watch out for. The system may say there are products in stock, but the number is not accurate. Updating system records may not be as high of a priority during this hectic time — but it can go a long way to helping keep on top of stock management.

Tip #3: Deploy Your Team with Intelligence

The third step Repsly identified was sharing surveys and daily execution plans with your field teams in real-time.

They cited a Forbes article that found sales reps spend less than three hours per day impacting revenue.

Field teams are your eyes and ears in the store. Their insight can be invaluable to your stock management — but they need to know what is expected of them.

When demand is so high, like it is right now, your representatives need to maximize their time to most effectively keep products on the shelf.

This can also include communicating with teams beforehand about any expectations from retailers. Provincial regulations can vary from province-to-province and internal regulations can vary from store-to-store. Knowing these guidelines ahead of time can help field teams act more efficiently and effectively.

Tip #4: Respond to Changing Conditions in Real Time

Just as communication with your field teams should be ongoing, so should communication with retail partners, supply chain managers, and distributors.

The Canadian Press noted in a recent article that empty shelves in stores are currently more an indication of a demand-issue, vs. a supply one.

A survey from the Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) found that 75% of FCPC members are confident in the supply of raw materials for two-to-five-plus months if current trends continue.

While this trend will hopefully stay in place, it’s important to keep in communication if something does change — and to have an alternative available. Agility and flexibility are more important than ever.

“Demand will continue to change as consumer behaviour, government policies, and regional conditions evolve,” Repsly stated. “Be equipped to share execution data … in real time.”

[Bonus] Tip #5: Adjust Stock Levels for Increased Omnichannel Sales

Stock management issues don’t only exist in-store. Canadian Grocer reported that one of the biggest challenges for grocers in managing stock is the rise of e-commerce – both delivery and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS).

E-commerce sales are revealing hidden out-of-stock issues that may not have been visible in store, Canadian Grocer noted. For instance, a shopper in-store may make a substitution if a product they want isn’t available, but they may order it online and not make that same substitution if it’s not available when they pick up their order.

Home delivery also turns stores into micro-fulfillment centres. Inventory isn’t only being placed on the shelf — it’s also being delivered or picked up, putting increased demand on both retailers and the stock levels.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more retailers have been offering these services to meet demand — but they may not necessarily have the inventory tracking systems in place to manage it. This is why manufacturers need to take a holistic view of their stock at retail and rely on field teams wherever possible.

See the full infographic from Repsly:

What are your stock management challenges during this trying time? Share with us on social media. Storesupport is on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Do you need extra field team support? Storesupport Canada is here for you. Our national field teams can respond quickly and with agility as needed to support your operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

We’ll ensure that stock levels are accurate, inventory is kept on shelf, and much more.

Get in touch today. Call 1-877-421-5081 or visit

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