What it’s like working in a supermarket during the coronavirus crisis

I’m a freelance journalist but I also work part-time in a supermarket for the extra financial security and social interaction.

Working in the supermarket at the moment is like working at Christmas but without the joviality. It’s crazy busy – and there’s no sign of it slowing down.

Our store’s sales targets were set some time ago, before so many people started panic buying due to the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, we were taking as much money as we expected to take during the whole day by 4pm. This week, we’ve been hitting our sales target by lunchtime.

When I arrived for my shift yesterday at 1pm, large chunks of the shop floor looked like a swarm of locusts had descended and stripped the shelves of everything but some cardboard boxes.

There was no bread, or potatoes, or pasta, or frozen chips, or handwash, or toilet rolls.

My colleagues had not had time to remove all the empty cardboard boxes as they were busy trying to stock the shelves with cereals and crisps. Customers were circling around them like vultures around a weakened beast in the Serengeti, in some cases roughly taking items straight out of their hands.

There’s not a chance we can practise ‘social distancing’ – we’re coming into close contact with hundreds of people a day and in fact we’re literally getting bumped and bruised by people’s trolleys as they try to push past everyone else in the aisles.

I was getting a bit fed up of hearing about Brexit and the awful weather but now, the coronavirus seems to be all that anyone is talking about. Lots of customers are moaning about people panic buying without realising they are part of the problem. They are seeing the empty shelves and taking what they can in case their choices are even more limited on their next visit.

Some customers have been grumbling – while others have been getting downright angry – about the lack of stock available, as if it’s our fault. We put out the stock with short expiration dates, such as the fruit and veg and the chilled food, before the ambient stock. So some people who’ve come shopping first thing in the morning haven’t been happy because they haven’t been able to get all the products they wanted, and some people who’ve come shopping later in the day haven’t been happy because lots of products have already sold out.

And then they’ve not been happy because the queues at the tills have sometimes been longer than normal.

Some seem shocked to realise that not even we have access to hand sanitiser. When I was on my till, I felt a need to cough. The more I tried to suppress it, the more insistent it became, and when I couldn’t contain it any longer, I was met by a mixture of disgusted, irritated and worried faces in my queue. The one at the back moved to a different till.

I’m just as worried as them. I’m wondering whether I should be self-isolating myself and whether I’m putting my household, which includes children with health conditions which make them vulnerable, and other people at risk by continuing to go to work. I’m worrying about whether I could afford all my bills and the possible repercussions if I stayed at home.

Some of my colleagues are self-isolating and, along with the fact we’re so busy, it means there’s overtime available for those who want the extra hours. We’re grateful for the extra cash, especially as we’re not sure what’s around the corner, but we’re working hard and it’s tiring. Our manager, doing an amazing job of leading by example, hasn’t had a day off for over two weeks. Yesterday he went in at 3am to start working the delivery and was still there 12 hours later.

It might be annoying for customers when they can’t get everything they need but it would be nice if people didn’t take out their frustrations on us. We’re trying our best, for pretty low pay, and we’re putting our own health and well-being on the line to try to keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

7 Replies to “What it’s like working in a supermarket during the coronavirus crisis”

  1. I work for Tesco in Barnstaple…so agree with everything you say in your article. Each and every staff member are going above and beyond to help customers. We do not deserve the anger and aggression being directed towards us. Some customers are repeatedly stealing the toilet roll and handsoap from the toilets too! Please be kind everyone…all supermarket staff are putting themselves and their health on the frontline here!

  2. We appreciate the work you and your colleagues are doing Caroline and want to thank you for doing your best to keep all of us ‘supplied’. It is of course frustrating when you can;t get what you need at the shop but that’s the fault of those in our community who are shopping selfishly without regard for others. This is the type of people you quite rightly describe as ‘vultures’ and sadly they come to the fore in situations like this. Don’t let them get you down. Those of us who are not like that recognise the fantastic job you are doing in very difficult circumtances.
    Keep your chin up


  3. I just want to say a huge thank you to people like yourself for all the hard work, you do an amazing job.
    I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, I too have been shopping and have come out empty handed, but not once do I think it’s the supermarkets fault, I see and know it’s very selfish people, how sad society has become.
    Thank you again.

  4. Thankyou for your article and your hard work at the supermarket. I do worry about you all and I hope your safe.

  5. I think you guys, are doing an amazing job. I’ve not been one of those stock things up buyer as I can’t afford it.
    If you guys need help my son is Available to do any shift, he’s just been layed off due to events being cancelled. So please let me know if he can lighten the burden that lays on all of your shoulders.
    But please accept my thank you to you and your colleagues for doing such an outstanding job and don’t let the crazy buyers push you around or let their frustration out on you. Push back and tell them to wait their turn.
    Stay safe

  6. you are right, trying to socially distance is impossible, for people like me and my wife we are appalled how the current crisis has brought out the worst in people. It is sheer greed, you can guarantee that like Christmas a lot will go off before they can use it – then they will be back in the shop again buying another 6 month supply. Why toilet rolls? if they have that problem it is not Covid19!

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