The ban on alcohol sales was lifted on 1 June following South Africa’s move to level 3 of the lockdown, resulting in a remarkable increase in demand for liquor compared to pre-lockdown levels.
MyBroadband visited Makro in Centurion 30 minutes before it was due to open, and experienced a queue of between 200 and 300 people waiting to purchase alcohol.
Similar imagery was shared across social media as South Africans looked to stock their fridges and bars.
MyBroadband asked liquor stores about their experiences since the lifting of the prohibition on alcohol sales.
These companies said that demand for alcohol was exceptionally high as lockdown restrictions were eased, with some stores reporting more demand than they usually see on Black Friday.
Pick n Pay Liquor
Pick n Pay said that, as expected, demand for liquor was high during the first few days – particularly on Monday.
“Our stores have remained busy, although they experienced less queuing from Tuesday,” said Pick n Pay.
It said that purchasing limits had been put in place and worked very well, helping it to serve as many customers as possible.
“Many customers also chose to shop online and placed pre-orders over the weekend to have their beverages delivered straight to their front door,” said Pick n Pay.
“We are anticipating increased demand again on Thursday, before the weekend.”
Pick n Pay said that while all categories were fairly equal in popularity, spirits topped the list of most-bought products.
It said it is working hard to ensure its shelves are well-stocked for customers.
“Our stores and online shop are being restocked daily to ensure customers’ favourite brands are available for them to buy.”
TOPS at Spar
TOPS said that because of the period that liquor stores were closed, there was an inevitable and large increase in trade during the first two days of the lockdown.
“We foresee the steady flow of customers continuing throughout the week until Thursday,” said TOPS.
“This may possibly decrease next week.”
TOPS said it should also be noted that daily store traffic will be different than pre-lockdown due to the four-day trading week imposed upon liquor stores.
However, it said its stores have handled the increased demand very well.
“All the necessary COVID-19 protocols were in place and customers adhered to these,” said TOPS.
“They have become accustomed to the queuing system and social distancing as we have been selling food from SPAR stores throughout the lockdown.”
Makro said that the demand for alcohol was significantly higher than during high-visibility promotions such as Black Friday.
It also said that online trade was “exceptionally good” and was enabled by its new partnership with OneCart and its investment in last-mile delivery service WumDrop.
It said that there has been a degree of rush buying, which it believes is driven by a lack of customer confidence that government will allow the trade of liquor to continue, as well as due to the weekend trading restrictions.
“Our view is that these trading restrictions are counter-intuitive in that they time compress weekly demand into a four-day trading window,” said Makro.
However, Makro said its stores have been able to meet customer demand and remain well-stocked anyway.
Makro said that its experience in other areas of the business has been that demand remains high for about three days following the lifting of trading restrictions, after which it settles into normal volumes.
“The unknown in the case of liquor is the impact that the weekend prohibition might have on Thursday buying behaviour,” it added.
It said it has prioritised the safety of staff and customers within its stores and has implemented additional measures to assist in the trading of liquor including increased security, the implementation of hand-held customer check-out devices to accelerate transaction processing, clearly communicating purchasing limits, and implementing a hard lock on its PoS system that prevents these limits from being breached.
Online liquor retailer CyberCellar said that online traffic had been incredibly high in the 10-day period between the level 3 lockdown being announced, and the reopening of alcohol sales.
“Traffic has been highest through the last 10 days, but by far the biggest single spike was the day immediately after the announcement that we’re moving to level 3,” the company told MyBroadband.
It said that since 1 June, when physical liquor stores opened, it saw a significant increase in traffic relative to pre-lockdown figures.
Even with the large influx of visitors over the past two weeks, it said its website has remained stable.
“The most strain is on our operations team in processing and dispatching all the orders,” said CyberCellar.
In this regard, increased demand has resulted in significant delays in the delivering of orders.
“We’ve had to send out a notice to our customers saying that we’re working through a serious backlog,” said CyberCellar.
“Some will already have received their orders but others will only get next week or after, so we’ve expanded our team and added delivery partners to help speed things up but still maintain safe work conditions.”
It added that restrictions around the days on alcohol can be sold also applies to its deliveries.
“All we want is everyone to get their orders as quickly as possible, but the Monday – Thursday alcohol rule means we can’t deliver on Friday or Saturday,” CyberCellar said.
“That cuts out 33% of our usual time – so it doesn’t help things.”