SA registers high fluctuations in SKU availability of alcoholic products on online platforms due to COVID-19 disruptions

SOUTH AFRICA – The retail industry has felt the effects of COVID-19 with lock-downs initiated in some countries forcing shoppers to stay away and, in some instances, the physical distancing protocol contributed to the immense reduction of foot traffic in stores.

As a result, the retailers invested in their online presence by adapting the use of e-commerce to ensure continued service to their customers.

With countries being in and out of lock-downs throughout 2020 and into 2021 there have been changes in online product availability in response to the shifting landscape.

These changes according to Euromonitor International, a market research provider, were seen with the SKU availability and out-of-stock rates (OOS%).

In South Africa, big fluctuations were seen in SKU availability of alcoholic products from 20th December, suggesting that consumers were stockpiling for consumption at home, prior to new measures being announced.

The country issued a third ban on alcohol sales as of December 28th and from past experiences consumers built up their supplies ahead of the restriction.

According to Euromonitor, wine and spirits saw big decreases in the number of SKUs available online between 20th December and 20th January declining by 60% and 50% respectively. For beer it dropped by 30.3%.

If out-of-stock rates are high but the number of SKUs remains stable, then shoppers are more informed about the overall availability of products on a retailer’s website


However, out-of-stock rates did not increase, showing that retailers were rather removing SKU pages online to either deal with spikes in demand before sales were prohibited or because sales would be restricted.

During the period, out of stock rates declined by 4% for beer, 7% for wine and 12% for spirits.

Even as out of stock rates of alcoholic products are at a lower rate, alcohol producers are lamenting of dead stock in their premises following reduced orders by on-trade outlets as the alcohol sale ban is still in place

“To deal with increased demand during the pandemic, some retailers removed SKU pages altogether instead of listing SKUs as out of stock.  If out-of-stock rates are low, but the number of available SKUs is rapidly decreasing, it creates confusion for the shopper to see SKUs being removed without notification.

“On the other hand, if out-of-stock rates are high but the number of SKUs remains stable, then shoppers are more informed about the overall availability of products on a retailer’s website,” indicates Euromonitor.

The alcoholic beverage aisle was not the only one affected, as with a peak in new cases and reports of a more infectious new strain, consumers sought home remedies or vitamin products to stay as healthy as possible during this increase in cases.

To this end Vitamin C and combination products (cough, cold and allergy remedies), saw fluctuations in availability. Vitamin C saw a 16% decrease in the number of SKUs available online and a 5% increase in OOS% and combination products saw almost 12% fewer SKUs available online and a 9% increase in OOS%.

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