Shoppers flocked to Officeworks for desks and chairs during the pandemic, but there was also a frenzy for an item they didn’t realise was sold there.
Shoppers flocked to Officeworks for desks and chairs during the pandemic, but there was also a frenzy for an item they didn’t realise was sold there.

Shoppers ‘hysterical’ over store discovery

The stampede to Officeworks for desks and chairs as the pandemic took hold was to be expected, but there was also a frenzy for one other item shoppers suddenly realised it stocked.

Officeworks managing director Sarah Hunter said the company "placed some big bets" in early March 2020, substantially expanding its stock inventory and recognising there would be long lead times, with global supply chains completely disrupted.

That would not fully recover until major countries came out of lockdowns, she said.

"It's still hard to get inks and printers and toners because more than half of the professional population of the world is working from home," Ms Hunter told NCA NewsWire on Tuesday.

"With all of the best will in the world, it doesn't necessarily mean we have every item that we would like available at every point when a customer comes into store or shops online.

"I'm pleased that we've still managed to maintain supply albeit maybe not with the choice that we would love for our customers."

She said Officeworks didn't sell much hand sanitiser before COVID "but we do now".

"And never did I think that there would ever be a run on toilet paper at Officeworks … after the supermarkets, people discovered we sold toilet paper.

It wasn’t just supermarkets that had their shelves stripped bare of toilet paper.
It wasn’t just supermarkets that had their shelves stripped bare of toilet paper.

"It was hysterical. It isn't what I thought we'd be famous for."

The broader cleaning and hygiene range also flew off the shelves, as did education and craft supplies for housebound children.

As businesspeople nervously lined up to print permitted worker forms and social distancing signage, particularly in Victoria, the company decided it would not charge.

"We gave them away for free because that was the right thing to do, to keep people safe and keep people working," Ms Hunter said.

Contactless click and collect delivery direct to car boots was also popular.

It's that ability to drive up to an Officeworks store that is a deliberate part of its strategy, with customers liking the immediacy of an in-store purchase.

Ms Hunter said leases were tightly, rigorously controlled to ensure the company could be agile, sometimes relocating within an area to change its store sizes and formats to meet local demographic shifts.

Officeworks managing director Sarah Hunter says COVID has changed the way we work forever.
Officeworks managing director Sarah Hunter says COVID has changed the way we work forever.

She said Queensland was a growing market for Officeworks, particularly where new schools were opening.

What's clear is the workplace has changed forever, with the pandemic showing the productivity and mental and physical health benefits of flexible arrangements.

"For forward-thinking businesses who can cope with the evolution of leadership that's required to run a flexible workforce and a flexible business, I really do think that it will stick and it's a huge opportunity for us," Ms Hunter said.

"More than 60 per cent of our team when we surveyed them said that they'd like to explore formal and informal flexibility.

"A lot of them are recognising the benefit of being … in the right environment for the work that they're doing and also embracing the health and wellbeing benefits.

Ms Hunter says it’s not just kids buying craft supplies but also adults who rediscovered their creativity during lockdowns. Picture: Nigel Hallett.
Ms Hunter says it’s not just kids buying craft supplies but also adults who rediscovered their creativity during lockdowns. Picture: Nigel Hallett.

 

"I've had team members come back to work who have lost 20kg because they've used the time that they normally spent commuting to actually reinvest it back in themselves.

"The dads in my office and the mums in my office are now telling me 'this is the day I drop off and I pick up my child from school' and they did not do that before COVID."

She noted many workers had felt isolated in their homes and that collaborative tasks were best done face-to-face, so there would always be shared office spaces, but dwellings were good for quiet work without interruptions.

"It's about knowing what the events are and the reasons are to come to the office," Ms Hunter said.

"I can see there are some real challenges with remote working, so it's about finding the right hybrid."

She predicted parents would also emerge from the health crisis wanting to continue to play a more active role in their children's education.

Ms Hunter said the Wesfarmers-owned chain played a massive role in helping Australians work, study and recreate from home during the health crisis, proving itself to be an essential service.

Originally published as Shoppers 'hysterical' over store discovery


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