Essential Retailers Work to Keep Employees Safe

Here are some best practices for businesses on the frontlines.

April 03, 2020

ISSAQUAH, Wash.—How are grocery stores, convenience stores, drugstores and other essential businesses keeping their employees safe while serving customers during the coronavirus pandemic? The Good Jobs Institute shares some best practices from companies like H-E-B, Mud Bay, Costco and Mercadona in an article for the Harvard Business Review.

Reduce workloads. With more cleaning necessary to help stem the transmission of COVID-19, retailers need to create time for workers to disinfect stores more frequently. Tips include shortening open hours and clear language explaining to customers and employees the reasons for the changes. For example, Spain’s biggest supermarket chain, Mercadona, is asking customers to quickly pick up items and not hoard. Costco has shut down its hearing aid, optical and food court departments, while also not allowing returns on toilet paper, cleaning wipes, rice and paper towels.

Outline safety measures. Retailers should create clear communication related to disinfecting distribution centers, trucks and stores, as well as handwashing and personal protection standards for employees. Be clear on how social distancing will work inside stores, such as using tape on the floor near registers to cue shoppers how to line up. Also include how employees will be monitored for potential sickness. For instance, at Mud Bay pet stores, greeters request shoppers wash hands at an outdoor station prior to entering and to keep social distancing inside the store.

Empower workers and make changes frequently. COVID-19 necessitates continuously changing protocol as new information is available from state and federal government. For example, Costco, H-E-B and Mercadona quickly put plexiglass at checkouts to reduce contact between employees and customers, while Mud Bay immediately started curbside pickup. Convenience stores have been agile in adding additional safety mechanisms as well.

Build in margin. Retailers who staff their stores with more labor hours than expected will find themselves able to continue operations as customers demand more and workers call out sick more. For example, H-E-B added a coronavirus response manager to monitor store sanitization and social distancing.

Be respectful. Retailers should prioritize workers through pay bumps, tools and resources to stay safe, and recognition of the tough job they have now. Many convenience stores have increased pay for their frontline employees. The CEO of QuikTrip has been stopping by stores “to show solidarity, recognize good work, and communicate that their jobs are safe but adheres to recommended social distancing and sanitizing practices while doing so,” authors Sarah Kalloch and Zeynep Ton wrote.

For more insight from Kalloch, who spoke at the NACS 2020 Leadership Forum, read “The Customer Experience Journey” in the April 2020 NACS Magazine, and Zeynep Ton, who led a Super Session at the 2019 NACS Show, in “Supersized Learning” in the November 2019 NACS Magazine.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.