Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest updates from the USA

Stewart Samuel
Program Director - Canada
@RetailAnalysis

Date : 20 April 2020

We look at the actions some of the major retailers in the US have undertaken in response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in four key areas; stores, supply chain, associate care and community support.

Common actions

  • Reducing operating hours to enable restocking and store cleaning, along with introduction of dedicated shopping periods for vulnerable shoppers
  • Introduction of measures to support social-distancing 
  • Closing or limited service at foodservice counters and self-service bars
  • Scaling up online operations and enabling contact-free grocery deliveries
  • Prioritising replenishment of high demand products into distribution centres
  • Recruiting to support stores and distribution centres
  • Enhancing  absence policies and payments

Walmart

  • Stores: Walmart stores and Neighborhood Markets have reduced trading hours, open from 7am to 8.30pm until further notice. The retailer is also introducing limits for customers in certain categories including paper products, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, diapers, wipes, formula and baby food. The retailer has also temporarily shut down its Auto Care Centers to allow associates to support stocking and cleaning in the main store area. The retailer is also looking to recruit a further 50,000 temporary associates to support its stores, clubs, distribution centres and fulfilment centres, following the recruitment of 150,000 new employees. Sneeze guards and floor stickers to support social-distancing are also being installed while the number of customer in-store at any one time is being limited to around 20% of each store's capacity. Directional signage to manage customer flow has also been installed
  • Online: Walmart is adding capacity to its operations. It has also deisgnated 7am-8am as a pickup hour for those most at risk for Covid-19, including customers over 60, first repsonders, customers with disabilities and anyone designated high-risk by the CDC
  • Supply chain: prioritising the replenishment of high demand items. This includes diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores. The retailer is also making changes to its supply chain financing programme, benefitting its small and medium sized suppliers
  • Associate care: new policy in place that provides associates with additional flexibility to stay home if they are not feeling well and pay options and support if they are affected by the virus. The retailer is also making a special cash bonus payment to hourly associates and accelerating the next scheduled quarterly bonus payment. The retailer has also started to take the temperatrures of its associates as they report to work in stores, clubs and facilities and is requiring face masks to be worn 
  • Community support: Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed US$25m to support organisations on the front lines responding to the outbreak. The funds will be used to strengthen the global public health response, bolster food security, and support the needs of local communities in the US and internationally. Walmart is also committed to government initiatives to widen the scope of testing, including the use of its car parks. The retailer is also waiving the rent for all Walmart property partners for the month of April - it has more than 10,000 leased spaces throughout the US, many of which have had to close

Kroger

  • Stores: store operating hours have been adjusted in some areas based on local circumstances, enabling it to operate clean and stocked stores to serve customers and support associates. Safety measures have been increased, with protective masks and gloves being procured for employees, as well as installation of Plexiglass partitions at checkouts, pharmacy counters and Starbucks registers. Customer numbers havee been been limited to 50% of normal store capacity. It is using its QueVision technology to monitor the number of customer per square foot. Directional markings are also being tested. 
  • Kroger has converted one store to pickup only to help meet the increased demand for its online services
  • Associate care: providing a one-time bonus to every hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing and customer service associate, amounting to $300 for every full-time associate and $150 for every part-time associate.A 'Hero Bonus' is also being offered, with a $2 premium applied to the hourly wage for all hours worked between March 29th - April 18th. Recruitment has ramped up, with 32,700 new employees hired in the last two weeks
  • Community support: Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation has made a US$3m commitment to deploy hunger-relief resources to communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The funding will support local food banks nationwide and initiatives that ensure children, whose schools may be closed, still have access to nutritious meals

Target

  • Stores: all Target stores have shifted to a 9pm closing time, providing teams with additional time for cleaning and restocking. It has also closed all Target Cafés, Pizza Huts, snack and beverage bars, Starbucks seating areas and condiment stations. In addition, the retailer has also introduced a dedicated shopping hour every Wednesday morning for vulnerable guests. Target is also adding more payroll hours into stores. The retailer is also limiting customer numbers as required during busy shopping periods
  • Supply chain: prioritising and fast-tracking the flow of products that are in highest demand across key categories, including cleaning products, paper products, food, over-the-counter medicine and baby products
  • Associate care: providing full-time and part-time hourly team members with a $2 per hour wage increase through to May 2. Also making back-up care available for all US team members by waiving eligibility requirements, co-pays and other programme details to ensure team members with caregiving needs can take care of their families during this time. It is also waiving its absenteeism policy and covering up to 14 days of quarantine and illness pay for team members with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Community support: along with the Target Foundation, it is giving $10m to expand relief assistance to team members and local, national and global organisations responding to the pandemic 

Albertsons

  • Stores: it has introduced priority shopping between 7am and 9am every Tuesday and Thursday for vulnerable shoppers, including seniors, pregnant women and immunocompromised
  • Supply chain: recruitment drive of 30,000 associates to support its distribution centres and stores. It is also formulating plans to support specific local communities if they become impacted in a significant way
  • Associate care: encouraging associates to stay home when they feel ill and is actively encouraging customers to use its Grocery Delivery or Drive Up & Go services if they have a fever or flu symptoms. It has created ’Contact Free’ delivery procedures for its team and changed its signature processes

Amazon

  • Stores: reduced trading hours at Whole Foods Market stores, which are also closing all hot food bars and self-service stations and moving all foodservice operations to takeout only. Dedicated shopping hours for vulnerable shoppers have also been introduced. In mid-April, the retailer also started to put new online grocery delivery custromers on a wait list to prioritise existing customers. It has expanded the number of stores offering grocery pickup to more than 150 stores. The retailer is also using an existing Whole Foods Market store in New York and a planned new format store in Los Angeles as dark stores to support online grocery demand
  • Supply chain: prioritising the flow of household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products into its fulfillment centres. The retailer is also encouraging shoppers to select ‘No-Rush’ shipping, where available, if their orders are not required immediately. This enables it to consolidate orders and make fewer stops in neighbourhoods throughout the week and serve customers with the most critical needs first. It is also recruiting 100,000 new part-time and full-time colleagues to support its fulfillment centres and delivery teams
  • Associate care: it is rewarding associates staying with the business with a $2-per-hour temporary raise through to the end of April. It has also established the Amazon Relief Fund, with an initial contribution of $25m, focused on supporting its independent delivery service partners and their drivers, Amazon Flex participants, and seasonal employees under financial distress
  • Community focus: created a $5m Neighbourhood Small Business Relief Fund to provide cash grants to small businesses that need assistance, operating with a physical presence within a few blocks of its Regrade, South Lake Union, and Bellevue office buildings. It has also contributed $1m to a new Seattle Foundation fund for community members and donated $1m to a fund that will benefit Washington D.C. community foundations

Other initiatives

  • Publix, Sprouts Farmers Market: delaying the opening of planned new stores
  • HEB: introduced free next-day store pickup for online orders and is actively adding capacity to its online service. It is also partnering with local restaurants to sell their products in-store through a pilot programme initially 
  • Hy-Vee: suspending production and distribution of its weekly flyer, citing challenges in maintain supply of promoted products. It has also launched the Hy-Vee KidsFit At Home video series to get kids moving and provide structure to their day
  • Schnucks: closing customer service desks in most stores, redeploying store colleagues to support its checkouts
  • Brookshire Grocery Co: providing shoppers aged 60 or older with a 5% discount until May 5

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