Shop staff face ‘mayhem’ in supermarkets across Scotland

A supermarket shopfloor worker in Edinburgh gives an insight into the pressures retail staff have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.

Empty shelves at Sainsbury's in Blackhall, Edinburgh. Panic buyers have stripped the supermarket shelves of food, soap and toilet rolls as fears rise over the spread of the Coronavirus

Pauline* has worked for one of the UK’s big four supermarket chains for two decades. Now based at a superstore in Edinburgh, she has witnessed the tensions caused by the spate of panic buying that gripped the country in March,and the impact it had on shop floor staff.

“We all say the same thing – it’s worse than any Christmas,” she told Scotland on Sunday.

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“During the run-up to the festive season there’s always a degree of panic buying. But this was customers suddenly thinking they needed to buy everything, not just the essentials – ‘I’ll buy this, just in case; I’ll buy that, just in case’. And if we didn’t have what they wanted, it was our fault.

“At the height of the panic buying, customers would be swearing. You would be called an effing numptie, all because you asked someone to please stand in a queue.

“One particular customer’s daughter, who could only be around 10, looked so embarrassed because of her father. He was just not prepared to wait in a queue. So he just pushed his trolley towards me and another member of staff.

“I’ve had customers claiming we have kept stock back, that our warehouse was full. And I would guarantee them our warehouse was empty, other than Easter eggs and crisps!

“To a lot of customers, it was simply all our fault. It was the older ones I felt sorry for – the ones who only came in once a week to get things, and there was nothing there for them.

“There was that much panic buying, it was unreal. We were trying to tell customers, you don’t have to buy seven packs of pasta; you don’t have to buy all the flour that’s on the shelf. It was just mayhem. People were so agitated, because they didn’t know what was going on or what was going to be happening.”

She added: “It is nice to hear from customers who are grateful that shops are still open and we’re still working. We do get a lot of thank yous. I would like to see that all year round. But I’m not optimistic.

“When things get back to normal, we will be forgotten. We’re a key worker right now, but we will quickly drop back down the line. We’ll still be left to deal with arrogant customers and verbal abuse.”

*Pauline’s name has been changed

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