That Friday, 14 May 2021, started like any other. NTUC FairPrice Store Manager Jean Huang was on her lunch break during her shift at the outlet in Seletar Mall.
But at 1pm, the Government announced tightened Covid-19 measures that would take effect that weekend. These measures entailed a suspension of dining-in at restaurants, as well as a downsize in allowed group gatherings, from five to two people.
“This [the announcement] caught us a bit by surprise. We had to observe the crowds and standby, see if there’s anyone that came straightaway. After work, they had time to drop by, and that was when the customers started to come in,” Jean said.
At the announcement, Multi-Ministry Taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong said: “This [the heightened measures] will apply across the board, so if you want to go out for anything, grocery shopping, exercise, maximum of two persons henceforth. In fact, we strongly encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible, go out only for essential reasons.”
People began to make trips to grocery stores across the island, stocking up on items ranging from food to toiletries. Photos of snaking queues in grocery stores like NTUC FairPrice and Giant began circulating online, showing the public how Singaporeans respond to such an announcement.
“We had people taking photos. Netizens, citizens, tried to take photos, assessing the crowd situation. Ok! No crowd. This one got stock,” Jean said.
Despite the sudden surge of shoppers, Jean believes that the store was better prepared now, compared to the announcement of the circuit breaker last year.
“We were ready when there was a sudden surge because this wasn’t the first time we have been through this. We are quite glad there isn’t serious panic buying this time, as these customers were just buying more of what they need,” Jean said.
FairPrice also employed various strategies to prepare itself for such a situation such as stockpiling, diversified sourcing from various countries to ensure it has adequate supplies for the whole nation.
“So that’s why on the whole in terms of store and company, we were better this time. We were able to gauge how much we need to import and stock at the warehouse,” she added.
Supportive Staff, Supportive Customers
Jean activated 40 of her 96-strong staff, who were mainly cashiers, to step up and speed up the queue process that Friday. The staff were happy to do so and even worked overtime to cater to the increased amount of customers.
She said: “FairPrice’s teamwork has always been pretty good. We are more like a family to each other. They’ve worked so many years with us, this is like a second home to them.”
The customers were also more patient and understanding.
“They behaved in a more orderly manner. They came to understand that if it is crowded inside, they have to queue to go in. We also don’t get people who abandoned baskets compared to last year.”
Supplies in Demand
When asked what supplies were in demand that day, Jean smiled and said: “Mainly, the usual – toilet rolls. We have concluded it is a psychological, feel-good feeling.
“Also, there is no expiry date on toilet rolls. You can keep and use it as long as you like. Other than toilet rolls, the others were rice, instant noodles, vegetables, poultry and eggs.”
As a message to the public regarding the current situation, Jean said: “While there will be times where there are minor delays like shelves being empty, we would like to take the opportunity to assure them that this is only temporary. Because we need time for logistics to deliver the stock to us from the various warehouses. Suppliers have to make more trips than usual, so they have more store to deliver, they might be delays here and there.”
Jean also thanked customers.
“Our staff work hard to replenish stock immediately when they arrive. We also would like to urge customers to buy what you need. There is no need to hoard,” she added.