How can stores get social distancing right?

Discussion
Photo: Walmart
Apr 06, 2020
Tom Ryan

Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s this past weekend joined many other retailers in limiting the number of customers allowed in stores at one time to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The retailers are taking some extra measures as well.

At Menards, the Midwest home improvement chain, children under the age of 16 are banned. In the U.K., Sainsbury’s isn’t letting couples shop together. At Costco, only two family members are now being allowed to enter their stores per membership card.

Hy-Vee is encouraging customers to follow a “one person per cart” guideline. Schnucks and H-E-B are suggesting one shopper per household when possible.

“If you come to the store, don’t come with your entire family,” Scott McClelland, H-E-B’s president told KPRC-TV, an NBC-affiliated television station in Houston. “I was in the store yesterday, and because people are bored they’re like, ‘Hey, let’s all go to the grocery store.’ So, a family of six showed up. Send one person; that way you lessen the ability for the virus to spread.”

How can stores get social distancing right?
Photo: Lowe’s

In Vermont, retailers such as Target, Walmart and Costco are now required to limit the sales of nonessential items.

Miami Beach and Hoboken, NJ over the weekend passed laws requiring residents visiting businesses to wear face coverings. In New Zealand, some grocers are refusing entry for shoppers not wearing gloves and masks.

In a number of stores, Walmart will “institute one-way movement through our aisles,” according to a blog from Dacona Smith, EVP and COO of Walmart U.S. Walmart’s stores will limit access to one entrance and one exit.

The moves come in addition to signage and regular announcements encouraging social distancing in stores.

With two Walmart employees in Illinois passing away within days last week after contracting the virus, the social distancing measures are being developed with employees in mind as well.

Walmart has installed Plexiglas at checkouts, is attaining masks and gloves for staff, and is conducting temperature checks pre-shift to safeguard employees. But Mr. Smith said that while many customers have followed social distancing suggestions, “We have been concerned to still see some behaviors in our stores that put undue risk on our people.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What other steps can essential stores such as food retailers take to emphasize social distancing in aisles? Do you see any of the current measures going too far — or are most stores not going far enough?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Retailers are taking exemplary proactive and incredible measures to protect public safety. The challenge remains the public. "
"This is only for a limited time, it won’t be forever so people need to get with the program. "
"Of course, this would be helped by a consistent government messaging across the U.S. Sadly that appears to be too much to ask right now."

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32 Comments on "How can stores get social distancing right?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Retailers should bolster their security and crowd control. Many retailers seem to be taking all the right precautions to keep staff and shoppers safe, but encouraging shoppers to adhere to the new guidelines (politely but firmly) is still important. There’s no question that the new (and changing) rules of social distancing are causing retailers and shoppers a lot of inconvenience, but what’s the alternative? Balancing public safety with convenience/cost is a difficult trade-off, but erring on the side of public safety is the only way to go.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Limiting the number of customers in a store at one time, no kids allowed, offering clean carts upon entrance, traffic going in just one direction, boxes on the floor to encourage social distancing at the checkout, and sneeze guards will all help.

I have seen too many photos in the news, and on social media, of cashiers and other store employees not wearing masks and gloves. Both should be store-supplied and mandatory. At this time every precaution should be taken.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Georgeanne, Both Walmart and H-E-B began to provide masks and gloves and started taking employee temperatures last week.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

That’s great! Our local chain grocer has not done this yet, but our local indie grocer just announced it had masks made for all employees. Taking temperatures makes sense, too.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

The social distancing measures discussed in the article are all smart practices for retailers. However, most stores are not going far enough. It would be best if we had consistent guidelines or enforced rules that are mandated by the state or national government. Yesterday I was waiting outside our local grocery store with our dog while my wife was shopping for our weekly needs. She was wearing a face mask, but she said only half the workers and half the customers wore masks. In addition, I saw a few families that were treating it like a family excursion. Small kids were giggling and joking about wearing face masks. We all need to take this seriously.

In addition to the retail practices above, we will likely see a mask as a requirement for retail workers and customers coming soon. In other countries, they have begun taking patrons’ temperature before they enter a retail or other public establishment and that may happen here as well.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
5 months 18 days ago

One person per household, one person per cart, regulating number of people in the store, and sanitizing the carts for every use are all practical. Getting items to people waiting outside – no more than five items for instance – would further reduce the crowding.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Masks and gloves should be required for entry along with limits on the number of people allowed in the store at any one time. Some retailers in my small town in Massachusetts hand out gloves to each shopper. I really like the one-way aisle idea as well. This is only for a limited time, it won’t be forever so people need to get with the program. I’m seeing a bit of in-store rage on social media which is disturbing to say the least. We all need to relax and accept the situation because at some point this too shall pass.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The sad thing is that the retailer can have all the rules they want but if people continue to be oblivious to what is happening, all the rules won’t help.

Maybe the safest idea is not going into the store at all. Just ordering it ahead and picking it up at the door. Sound familiar? Seriously, we have proven with BOPIS that there is no need to enter the store to fulfill your shopping requirements. I emphasize the word “need” as opposed to “desire.”

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I was in H-E-B and Walmart here in Texas this weekend and indeed there are markers on the floor to really enforce social distancing and people were being very mindful to follow the new protocol. No complaining – people get it.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Many stores are doing their part, and more will figure it out as they understand how to control the numbers of customers in their stores. All of the ideas mentioned in this article (and others), as well as the suggestions of our BrainTrust colleagues are good. But we need the consumer to help by doing their part. They need to comply and do what’s necessary on their side to ensure the store, the employees and the customers are all as safe as possible.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Retailers are taking exemplary proactive and incredible measures to protect public safety. The challenge remains the public. Selfish behaviors and irresponsible actions are putting far too many at unnecessary risk.

The area of the experience that remains the biggest challenge for me (a mask-wearing, social-distancing, and self-aware shopper) is the checkout. The exchange of cash, the keypads, and the bagging experience puts all of the other great in-aisle efforts in jeopardy.

David Weinand
BrainTrust

We have an office in India and our team is only able to have food delivered. They can’t leave their homes at all. As for the U.S., I don’t understand why people are still downplaying this thing. I was at Walmart yesterday to try to find elastic to make masks (none available) and only half of the employees had masks on. Walmart store managers need to enforce this. As for shoppers – about 70 percent had masks on. The fact is, we can leave our homes – we don’t realize how lucky we are – we just need to take it seriously.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

David, funny you mention elastic. I was talking with an associate in my office, and she mentioned the same thing — no elastic to be found anywhere. She was making masks for her family and ran out of elastic. She ended up having to order it from Amazon…

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
All the responses on the article and by my fellow BrainTrusters are excellent, but they only hint at the real problem. Here in the Detroit area, one of the nation’s “hot spots,” the stores — by and large — are doing great, it’s the customers who aren’t paying attention to the rules. Some are gloved and masked, most still aren’t. There are still aisles full of people touching multiple cans or boxes looking for the “right one.” And while Holiday Market, my local supermarket, has the all the appropriate safety procedures in place where they can, including going to pre-packs in the olive bar, customers still are WAY too close at the service counters — including prepared foods, and especially the deli. And produce is totally exposed, not a comforting sight when videos of younger shoppers sneezing or spitting on produce items, practicing what they call “Boomer Remover” pop up on Instagram. For the record, I haven’t seen even one example of this at Holiday where the produce department clerks seem to be doing an… Read more »
Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Most stores are not going far enough. Even with social distancing and customers waiting to get into the store, once in the store cashiers and employees are not wearing masks or gloves. And kids are still running around. I overheard one of the employees in the meat department say, “I know I will get the virus” to another employee in the context of both of them being exposed at work. The mask conversation has a life of its own at the moment. Today, wear a mask to protect others, last week don’t wear a mask. The current “what is a mask” conversation. Bandanas, scarves, paper towels, etc.? It only confuses the issue.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Most retailers are definitely doing their part. Unfortunately, most shoppers are not yet taking this as seriously as I believe they should. Why on earth would anyone think it’s okay to take their entire family to a store right now? And kids that are difficult to control are a danger to themselves and everyone else in the stores. I just don’t understand these selfish choices. Over and above what stores are already doing, placing tighter restrictions on the numbers of people per cart, adding Walmart’s one-way traffic flows and possibly even adding “aisle monitor” associates to help enforce social distancing rules would help.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Taking the entire family to the grocery store gives a false sense of getting everyone out for a few minutes to create some distraction from the situation. In reality it increases the opportunity of one member contracting the virus and spreading it to others. This is the reason the experts are speaking loudly about social distancing. (Our governor here in Florida finally decided it would be best to stay at home. The remaining states holding out need to get on board if we want to reduce the dangers we are facing.) If stores are going to remain open, employees should be given the voice to warn customers about safe social distancing.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The key is to maintain the constant drumbeat of safety in your stores among employees and shoppers. Simple, concise signs (e.g.,this one ) that show messaging to wash hands and don’t touch your face, as well as distancing ( e.g., like this one) signs are effective measures.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

What the public needs from stores are clear guidelines — even more importantly, ones that are common among the stores. The chaos of rules noted above makes it difficult to establish social distancing.

I was shocked over the weekend at how wearing masks seems to have given some people a “nothing to worry about” attitude as stores were filled with people crowding others.

Of course, this would be helped by a consistent government messaging across the U.S. Sadly that appears to be too much to ask right now.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Thanks Doug. Your theory is an excellent rebuttal to the “can’t hurt, might help” rationale for mask wearing … particularly the (highly dubious) “t-shirt or bandana” suggestion.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

There is only one problem with allowing only X number of customers in the store at one time. None of the stores I have shopped at or driven by enforce social distancing at the line that is queued up to go into the store. If you are a senior for example and you show up at 8 a.m. you have a line. They are checking ID to make sure you are a senior and the line is a block long with everyone next to each other.

William Hogben
Guest

Fairway Market in New York is using mobile self-scanning to reduce merchandise handling and get shoppers out of lines – they’ve seen 30 percent adoption at their peak location.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

One-way aisles will help. If you can’t get pick-up or delivery (it’s hard to find windows here in Portland), perhaps an app that allows you to send your grocery list, and get a custom path through the grocery aisles, with stops clearly marked for where the product you have asked for is located. If you are going to allow fewer people into the store at a time, then you need to make their shopping trip faster and more efficient.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Most stores (that are open) are taking the right actions. An example from a nearby grocery chain included limiting number of people in the store, notices to customers reminding them of staying away, shorter hours that enable store disinfecting, security on site, lines with markings six feet apart, disinfected carts, and engagement with customers on questions and concerns. Where the grocery fell short was face masks for cashiers, gloves for all employees, and too many people in the store – even with the limiting of customers, the number has to be realistic based on the size of the store. Allowing 20 people in a 5,000 square foot store still leaves lots of chances for “closeness” depending on the merchandise and format. Safety first should be the mantra – it’s not new, but has to be enforced.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Excellent recommendations included here and it’s good to see the actual policies taken by retailers across our nation. These are for both employee and customer safety. The inconvenience is minuscule compared to the importance of saving lives. Social pressure as well as store enforcement will help, but it needs to be accompanied by local, state, and federal leaders emphasizing these very safety measures.

FrankKochenash
Guest

Retailers can consider further measures to avoid store visits in the first place. Acknowledging the capacity constraints of delivery right now, they could consider actions like taking digital pre-orders for high demand items like toilet paper at store entry. Perhaps this will prevent people from visiting who are coming to see if there’s any that came in today.

Or there could even be digital kiosk stations (which could be lightweight consisting of a laptop in a booth) that allow a shopper to purchase online without going in. This would need to be backed with a person to pick the order and bag it while the shopper waits in their car. So it’s not exactly easy to implement, but it controls and limits who is in the store. (At my local grocery store, I anecdotally find that checkout staff is available because of fewer customers and most of them preferring self-checkout. Maybe they could be used differently.)

Ryan Grogman
BrainTrust

I think something to keep in mind is change management. Similar to when retailers implement a new technology, there is an adoption curve as associates and customers react to something new and different. Even though we are seeing a mixed bag of compliance by both retailers and customers with the new normal of essential shopping during this pandemic, the pendulum is indeed swinging towards the right level of safety measures. What would have seemed extreme just a week or two ago is now reaching acceptance when it comes to face masks in public, controlled queue management into stores, one-way aisles, etc. Two critical components of successful change management are training and communication. Make sure your associates know WHY these measures are being put in place so they can become advocates. And also ensure you are pushing the right messaging (both verbally and via signage) to your customers so they also can understand HOW they should be following your guidelines.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
Social distancing practices in grocery stores is a high priority conversation. Many thoughtful ideas are in this thread. Asking shoppers to mask up and wear gloves is protective in its own right while also sending a message about collective safety. (So far the key hindrance for this is the shortage of masks and gloves.) I believe an important objective in this realm is reducing the number of trips to stores, which would reduce the number of human interactions. Three factors can make this possible: 1) Educate shoppers to encourage pantry trips over fill-in trips. “Once a week” should be the mantra. 2) Encourage shoppers to order online to the extent possible, but fix it so it actually works well. Demand is already way up for both click-and-collect and delivery options, but service ranges from spotty to downright frustrating (based on recent experience and anecdotes I am hearing). 3) Get store inventories fixed. When core pantry items are unavailable, online ordering is insufficient and shoppers may feel compelled to visit multiple stores to find items they… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’m not generally fond of age limits, and I’m not fond of this one, since it seems arbitrary (though to be fair it might make more sense in a home improvement store than somewhere else). Non-essential goods seems just that, so that’s my choice. Not fond of masks … particularly if a store can’t assure that people have access to them. The reality is we will have to accept some level of exposure; much as with seat belts, we can reduce harm, but it’s not possible to completely eliminate it.

Chuck Palmer
BrainTrust
While limiting behavior is counter intuitive for retailers and their associates, they do have the ability to amp up control over what people do in stores. We don’t have strong enough guidance as to what works and what doesn’t and what the new rules are. Retailers are left to figure out their own way of dealing with this — someone at Walmart thought one-way aisles is important — makes sense, I guess. But Target and Kroger are focusing their adaptations to in other areas. Thing is, we don’t have evidence as to what works and what doesn’t, so we have a seemingly tossed salad of what to do. While it’s not usually their job, essential retailers will eventually have to be behavioral police. In the meantime they should be increasing their security and management staff’s training toward enforcing rules. This is the only way we’ll eliminate behavior we see as putting others in jeopardy. Perhaps a return to olden times is in order — when you asked the proprietor for what you need and he… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
The biggest challenge I have seen so far in stores is keeping appropriate social distance within the aisles. Walmart has taken a great approach to this by creating one-way aisles. Beyond that, it will take having store associates within view of every aisle to enforce the distancing requirements. Otherwise, it is too easy for shoppers to get too close together when multiple customers want to reach for the same item on the shelf. Rounding the endcaps with a shopping cart is another challenge for most customers. Creating entrance lanes and exit lanes to the store as well as marking separation space at the checkout are all great measures to take, but will not be enough. Clearly, the number of simultaneous shoppers inside the store needs to be controlled. Limiting products to prevent hoarding is also important. Retailers should be providing masks and gloves for employees at this point across the board. Whether or not shoppers should be required to do this is really something that should follow CDC recommendations as needed rather than be up… Read more »
Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Communicate clear social distancing expectations to customers before they enter the stores, and then encourage easy ways to stick to these expectations. Retailers should be coordinating common expectations and communicating this from the moment consumers come to their stores, and always be aware of both their employees and their customer’s safety at all times.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers are taking exemplary proactive and incredible measures to protect public safety. The challenge remains the public. "
"This is only for a limited time, it won’t be forever so people need to get with the program. "
"Of course, this would be helped by a consistent government messaging across the U.S. Sadly that appears to be too much to ask right now."

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