Walmart has changes in-store as the holidays near

Source: Walmart
Sep 25, 2020

The Christmas selling season is kicking off earlier than ever and Walmart announced on Wednesday its plans to meet the needs of its customers at this time.

The retailer said it plans to hire an additional 20,000 workers to help fulfill online orders as greater numbers of consumers than ever before are expected to do their shopping from home. The new hires will be in addition to more than 500,000 new associates the company brought on for its stores and in its supply chain operations to meet the crush of orders it received as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S.

Walmart has said it will offer more deals online and in stores and spread them out over the holiday season to help customers who choose to shop early while reducing any shopping frenzy that may occur as Christmas approaches. The retailer said it would be announcing more specifics on its deals soon.

“Over the past six months, our customers have been shopping differently, and we expect that will continue into the most important shopping season of the year — the holidays,” Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., said.

For customers who prefer to shop in Walmart’s stores, the retailer promised to take steps to protect their health. It will continue to require associates and customers to wear masks. The chain, which expanded store operating hours last month, will stick with its routine of closing overnight to clean and restock stores.

Two changes Walmart is implementing include the end of one-way aisles in its stores. It also plans to open another set of doors in its stores, with one to serve as an entrance and the other as an exit.

The retailer addressed the move back to two-way aisles in a statement to The Kansas City Star.

“We have seen that generally, customers have adopted new behaviors and take serious their personal responsibility to wear masks, practice social distancing and use our expanded hours to better spread traffic throughout the day, enabling us to provide them new options,” Walmart said.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen by seven percent over the past two weeks and deaths from the virus are up five percent over that time. More than 202,000 Americans have died to date and medical authorities warn that the situation could get much worse during the fall and winter.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you approve of Walmart’s decision to eliminate one-way traffic in its aisles in light of concerns raised by health professionals about the spread of COVID-19 in the fall and winter? Do you expect consumers to exercise more caution shopping in stores as the holiday season approaches?

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18 Comments on "Walmart has changes in-store as the holidays near"

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Neil Saunders

From all the stores I visited, very few customers paid attention to the one-way system. I don’t think it was out of belligerence, but because most people shop habitually and were oblivious to the arrows on the floor. In other areas Walmart has done a good job of enforcing mask wearing and limiting the number of shoppers in store. I am sure that these measures will continue into the fall and winter months. As for confidence to shop, I think a lot of this depends on the progression of the virus. If there is a spike over the next few months that could limit the degree to which consumers wish to visit physical stores.

Gary Sankary

I was shopping Walmart yesterday and I didn’t notice the arrows until I was in the last aisle I shopped. I only knew what they were because I’d read about their policy back in April.

Xavier Lederer

One way to look at things is: How do we avoid consumer fatigue about in-store safety procedures? Limiting safety procedures to only the most important ones makes it easier for consumers to keep following them. If one-way aisles don’t make nearly as much difference as masks in terms of safety, then it might make sense to end one-way aisles.

Georganne Bender

I’m not sure I understand the decision to eliminate one-way aisles. Sure, some people ignore them but the pandemic is not over so why is Walmart relaxing its in-store safety procedures?

Every news program I see talks about the importance of safety during the pandemic, and in every conversation Rich and I have with retailers there is talk of not letting your guard down. It is a retailer’s job to keep store associates and customers safe while they are in their stores. I don’t like the precedent that Walmart is setting here.

Ben Ball

Retailers had one-way aisles?! Who knew?!

Lisa Goller

As a Walmart shopper, I can attest that many customers ignore the directional signage. Fortunately, everyone wears a mask and spreads out except for bottlenecks in the chilled produce section.

In response, crowd counting at the entrance can limit respiratory risks by limiting in-store capacity. Also, momentarily passing other shoppers isn’t as risky as sitting in an unventilated classroom for six hours.

In Q4, consumers will limit the frequency and duration of their in-store visits. Online deals and new hires will make e-commerce a safer, more alluring option for holiday shopping that’s worth any additional wait.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
2 years 2 months ago

I was one one of those shoppers that always followed the directional arrows in Walmart. They were put there for a reason but, unfortunately, most people never looked down – very frustrating. For what it’s worth, people are still very accommodating – they are not bunching up and they are social distancing. The thing that keeps my comfort level intact is that I still see people cleaning (registers, freezer doors, etc.) which is a very good thing.

Gene Detroyer

Has anyone been in a store with one-way aisles where the shoppers actually paid attention to them? I always feel like I am going in the wrong direction even if I am following them correctly.

Gary Sankary

I do think customers are going to exercise caution, and I fully endorse Walmart’s efforts to keep their customers and their teams safe. As far as the one way aisles go, when the store is busy like they were early in the pandemic, I think it made a ton of sense. Lately the traffic in my local store during they day has been more “normal” I’ll admit I ignore the one way arrows when the aisles are clear. (Didn’t notice them actually). Retailers will have to be a bit flexible and adjust policy as needed to align with traffic and local conditions.

Jeff Sward

One way aisles were a great idea — for the whole 20 minutes that a couple of shoppers actually paid attention to the rule. I would follow the rules and when I forgot something I would promptly backtrack and find myself going the wrong way in an aisle. I meant to follow the rule — really … honest! But those damn ingrained habits and autopilot. So OK, the one thing everybody has to do is wear the mask. And we know that gets a little ugly sometimes. But public health and safety has to be protected. We have a rough six to 12 months coming. A little mutual respect will go a long way.

Ryan Mathews

I don’t approve of any decision by any retailer that may have the unintended consequence of prolonging or deepening the pandemic, especially as we move into flu season. Retailers should hold a higher health standard than their customers who rarely – in my experience – pay attention to one-way rules and, where I live, often refuse to wear masks. So no, I don’t expect people to exercise more caution, in fact quite the opposite. A significant portion of the shopping public has been conditioned to believe: a.) the pandemic is a hoax; b.) COVID-19 is an anarchist conspiracy; c.) medical and scientific authorities can’t be trusted, or even listened to; d.) federal and state governments can’t be trusted on public health matters wither. Look, we are talking about holiday shoppers who annually trample each other – occasionally to death – to get doorbuster savings, assault each other with their fists, knives, and guns over the wearing/not wearing of masks; and spit on store employees. Caution? I’d be pleasantly surprised.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

The longer we live with the pandemic, the more we begin to normalize its presence and ignore the behavioral cues that go along with it, like adherence to one-way aisle signs and the six-foot rule. However the obvious physical cues of masks are sufficiently obvious not to miss. So I only have one word of caution for retailers this holiday season; control crowds, or there may be unintended consequences of a Walmart or a Target, etc. being a site of super virus spreading. Those consumers that can plan and afford to shop online will avoid the stores whenever possible. This holiday season will be like none we’ve lived through before.

Rachelle King
Few retailers are as close to store operations and their customers as Walmart. No doubt they did not make this decision lightly. If they are able to manage overall traffic such that the aisles are not overcrowded in two-way aisles, then it might actually help expedite customers moving in/out of stores. Also, it’s hard to police shoppers who simply find the one-way aisle impossibly frustrating and go around anyway. Kudos to Walmart for getting out early with holiday plans and staffing up. Ideally, there will be a balance of in-store and online deals that will curb the rush of traffic to stores. By now, the anti-maskers know the rules and should keep in-store tantrums to a minimum. Still, as fall creeps in and infection rates rise, most shoppers will play it safe and shop online. While retailers and brands are making their best possible efforts to prepare for something no one has ever experienced in modern history, at the end of the day, all we can really do is plan for the worst (as experts… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
2 years 2 months ago
Eliminating one-way aisles is a tough decision. On the one hand, too many customers ignore the indicators or simply don’t see them until they are going the “wrong” way. On the other hand, removing them is akin to just giving up and deciding it’s OK to let our collective guards down during the pandemic. Neither is optimal. I suggest retailers keep their guards up and set a high standard. Most customers will do their best to adhere to those standards. Not having them at all simply sets a low expectation and people have a habit of meeting expectations whether they are high or low. The key for all retailers will be controlling crowds in their stores regardless of one-way aisles or not. Customers may have been conditioned to date on how to act in-store, but the holiday shopping season has a tendency to bring out the worst in shoppers – how many stories have we all seen of people being trampled for a doorbuster? Let’s hope this year is different and everyone does their part… Read more »
Ananda Chakravarty

Enforcing the one-way rule is difficult and it’s up to customers to decide whether and how much they need to adhere to it. Despite the changes, Walmart can also justify removing this rule as the rule increases time indoors in a publicly accessible space, which has been identified as something to avoid. During the holiday season, traffic is also expected to be higher, so these steps are anticipatory. Consumer behavior is fickle and there is tremendous COVID-19 fatigue. We may see less caution by some groups, such as college students et. al. but the warnings and efforts to curb coronavirus are still in place. It’s up to the health agencies to push the right agenda here.

Verlin Youd

Customers are already exercising more caution, wearing masks, physically distancing, touching merchandise less, and having fewer interactions with fellow shoppers. As Mohamed Amer mentioned, retailers will have to keep an eye on crowds, however I suspect that like holiday sales, shoppers will be spread out over a longer holiday shopping calendar resulting in fewer people in the store, even on heavy shopping days. Like everything else related to retail, COVID-19 has sped up the inevitable changes that were coming.

Shep Hyken

I remember just a few years ago when Walmart said it would add more cashiers and open more check-out lanes. Obviously, the way we shop today — and will this holiday season — has changed. Walmart is a good role model when it comes to flexibility. As a large (HUGE) retailer, it is also impressive how quickly they make a change like this.

John Karolefski

My in-store experience has been that two of three shoppers ignore one-way aisles. Will they be COVID-cautious during the holiday shopping season? My gut says 50-50. Hey, won’t we have vaccine by Nov. 2?


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