The Covid -19 pandemic which has affected global supply chains, social gatherings, education, aviation, and the economy as we know has become the topic of the day. Its effect on these areas of life have been touched on by practically every news source since February but one commonly overlooked aspect is its effect on the individual.
Across the globe, from the Americas to Africa, Covid-19 initiated an unprecedented rush for essential resources as ‘stay at home’ directives were given. This hoarding effect led to facilities being overrun by customers looking to purchase goods that last for extended periods of time. In a few cases, the rush for essential products led to physical altercations which went against the idea of having minimal contact in these times.
Storekeepers and managers also struggled with keeping the peace, minimizing contact within their facilities, and ensuring available products got to everyone. The hoarding effect and the challenges faced highlight the importance of capacity planning and predictive analysis during a pandemic. It is worth remembering that in times such as these, society is only as safe as its weakest individuals. Thus, underlining the need to ensure hoarding is minimized and everyone gets the essential products required for living.
Reducing Hoarding through Capacity Planning
Although capacity planning is generally applied to manufacturing facilities, any enterprise providing some form of service can take advantage of it. For storekeepers, marts, and supermarkets, capacity planning can be an effective tool to ensure stores remain open, effectively staffed and provide the essential services needed in these times.
In this scenario, Simulation technology is a willing tool for analyzing current capacity, determining service level requirements and creating plans to meet these requirements. One example is the use of a discrete event simulation (DES) model to develop efficient queuing systems that reduce the waiting time for every customer.
The application of DES models in large markets has helped businesses improve waiting times by 26%. In this case study, the 26% improvement led to a 5-minute reduction of the time a customer spent paying for an order. Applying this to the Covid-19 induced rush that continues to occur in some stores can reduce the anxiety customers show anytime they come out to purchase goods.
Integrating enterprise resource management data such as inventory lists into simulation models can also help with rationing goods among customers. In the United Kingdom, it was discovered that the elderly and healthcare providers struggled with picking up essential goods as available products were purchased before they got to stores. To eliminate these challenges, ‘elderly hours’ were created to ensure the vulnerable and healthcare providers could make their purchases before the normal customer rush hours.
Simulation software can enhance these plans by providing insight into the number of hours the elderly spent shopping and how long they spend at cash-out points. With this information, stores can choose to reorganize their shop floor layouts to make shopping a more comfortable experience. Thus, the products most likely to be purchased such as hand sanitizers can be placed closer to check out points and in easily accessible carts or shelves.
Simulation can also help with developing effective rationing policies for essential products. According to a UK survey, one in ten consumers is stockpiling or hoarding essential products which put others at risk. Today, stores such as Tesco, Waitrose, and online stores have put limits on the number of essential products individuals can purchase. Most of these stores chose arbitrary numbers to determine their rationing policy which is an area where simulation can shed more light.
With the use of historical shopping data and inventory lists, store owners can access the insight needed to create more accurate rationing policies. The more accurate a rationing policy is, the easier it becomes to deal with hoarding during these uncertain times. Simulation models can also integrate risks such as supply chain delays and other logistics challenges that are by-products of the coronavirus pandemic. The insight gotten from these models can help stores know the timelines to expect new products which, in turn, determine new rationing policies.
Minimizing Physical Contact with Simulation Technology
Although all social activities have ground to a halt, going out to purchase essential goods or services is expected to continue until the pandemic has been dealt with. During outings, the surest path to protecting oneself is through social distancing and avoiding contact with other shoppers. The recommended distance to keep is 6 feet or 72 inches. Physical stores have taken this to mind and in many cases, allotted standing spaces have been provided for shoppers to stand in while they wait.
The effectiveness of standing spaces is only as good as the patience of the individual waiting in one. In some cases, hoarders have overlooked the need for social distancing to get what they want. Therefore a means to enforce social distancing to minimize physical contact is still needed.
Simulation can help speed up waiting times and also determine the maximum wait time a customer should spend at cash-out points. Stores can make use of the data to set timers for both cashiers and electric door locks with timers visible to cashiers. The timers will help cashiers be more efficient while the door keeps out anyone who intends to jump the queue and distort social distancing norms.
Planning for the Future
From all indications, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to be contained sometime in the near future and with it comes the start of normal economic activities. Simulation as a planning tool can help enterprises prepare for that future today. This includes manufacturers who’ll have to ramp up supply to meet increased global demands after rationing and healthcare providers who will have to gradually scale down capacity without reducing the quality of care they provide.
At the end of this pandemic, one thing is certain; traditional business practices will be redefined and no business norm will be left unscathed. Thus, enterprises with the ability to plan for changes to supply chains, manufacturing, and service delivery will stay ahead of the competition. Simulation software provides you with the ability to plan accurately and receive the actionable insights that will put you ahead of your competitors.