Special Series: Suggestions for Food Stores to Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Continuing our series of posts to help food retailers navigate the uncertainties and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as we come together as one community, Logile’s experienced retail practitioners and consultants have compiled practical suggestions for food retailers to consider as they respond to their unique situations. In our first post, we compiled 12 actions for retail food companies to consider at the corporate level. Our focus in this post is on store operations. (Also be sure to read our post with recommendations for food store associates.)
Again, we recommend that you regularly check and follow all guidelines and requirements as communicated by the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and applicable national, federal, state and local authorities. These guidelines and requirements may change, so stay well connected with these sources. Nothing we suggest should alter your full consideration of and compliance with WHO, CDC, national, federal, state or local directives.
As one community, we as retail software solution vendors are dedicated to supporting the operation of responsive, safe and efficient food retail stores in all formats and communities. We hope this information proves useful for those looking for actionable items and insights to improve their operations and support and protect the people they employ and serve.
Ideas for food stores to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic
#1. Ensure that sick employees are not working or being pressured to work by department managers. Scheduling associates to handle high customer traffic and support the new requirements for sanitation and recovery will be no small challenge. Although restricting hours of operation will help, many associates will be impacted by school closings and changed schedules of family members. Nonetheless, it is imperative that employees who are sick do not work. Some businesses and government authorities are providing support to those who are unable to work due to sickness; but even in the absence of such, sick employees should not work and put other associates or customers at risk. Consider special allowances to excuse absences, as well as special commendations for associates who pitch-in by working longer hours or supporting areas in critical need.
#2. Deliver training, communication and positive reinforcement to associates. Communication is key to ensure that associates can execute critical tasks and represent your store to your customers. Communicate through multiple channels that you are following all applicable public health recommendations and requirements. Communicate changes to recommendations and requirements as they are received. Prepare your associates for customer questions and concerns. Offer them responses to the frequently asked questions you expect to hear. Provide additional training for everyday and special sanitation routines. Help associates understand not only WHAT is expected but WHY these changes are necessary. Customers will view the actions of your associates as your store’s real commitment to safeguard their health and safety. Make policy changes easily accessible to associates by distributing them through multiple channels in addition to posting them on bulletin boards. Provide associates with the facts and stress that they should not magnify or elaborate concerns to customers based on other information they could be hearing from outside sources. Panic grows in the absence of factual information.
#3. Reinforce all basics around sanitation, both routine and special, and ensure associates are in full compliance. As stated above, now, more than ever, be sure training includes not only WHAT any changed or heightened sanitation procedures are, but WHY they must be followed. Compliance increases when associates understand the importance of their individual actions, and that it is valued. The WHY also empowers associates to answer questions from customers effectively and factually. Change gloves often, as appropriate. Demonstrate safe sanitation practices for all customers to see. Have cashiers frequently sanitize their hands. Monitor compliance closely as customers will be especially mindful about how they perceive food being handled by your associates.
#4. Fully utilize whatever self-checkout capacity you have. With limited staff available and customer demand running strong, make full use of self-checkout options to improve throughput and manage lines in your Front End. Many customers will also appreciate the touch-free option of self-checkout. Provide for necessary and frequent sanitation of these and all checkouts.
#5. Increase sanitation to high-touch areas including carts, restrooms, checkouts and cases. High-traffic areas will require more frequent sanitation. Customers and associates will expect stronger and more frequent routines to maintain these areas. Wipes, sanitizing solutions, hand sanitizers, and gloves will be needed in greater quantities. Work with your chemical provider to plan for a time when wipes and sanitizers may not be available. Plan for what happens if theses supplies run out. Identify the next-best options and provide for them.
#6. Suspend demos and sampling programs. Demo and sampling programs may be part of your store’s merchandising offerings, but now is a time to suspend these activities and focus resources on basic operations.
#7. Provide clear signage for items out of stock and provide supplemental displays for high-demand items you have available. Customers have already experienced out-of-stocks for certain high-demand items. Normally you may not want to call attention to out-of-stock items, but signage now makes sense to avoid customers asking individual employees to check to see if there is additional stock in the backroom. Save everyone time with good, clear signage including the location of secondary displays if you have them.
#8. Provide easy grab-and-go options to avoid long lines at service counters. To avoid congestion at Deli, Meat or other service counters you may consider offering pre-packaged grab-and-go offerings as an alternative. Be sure the product you offer is appropriately labeled, packaged and maintained in appropriate refrigeration. Customers may be more likely than ever to appreciate avoiding the counter and considering these alternative options.
#9. Restrict food handlers from handling money at perimeter registers. Having your food handlers stop and ring customers is not efficient and requires hand washing and fresh gloves before they return to food handling. Instead, consider closing these registers or staffing them with a dedicated cashier if there is enough demand to warrant it.
#10. Ask associates to be flexible to store needs, and be flexible with them. It will take the combined efforts of your team to meet the needs of your store, your customers and your community. Be open with your associates where you need help and have shifts for those looking for extra hours. Be flexible with those struggling with illness or with childcare or other family commitments that conflict with their normal availability. Think ahead about those employees with skills flexible across departments and be sure to utilize those skills. Communicate well with your associates and ask them to do the same for their managers.
#11. Prepare for backup support needs. Critical procedures must be readily available and understood. Backup role consolidation should be understood and reinforced if members of the store management team are unable to work. The same process applies to key skills in each department. The more you prepare for such interruptions, the better you can respond to them.
#12. Thank your employees for their hard work and support. Expect that there will be plenty of stress to go around. Customers will be under stress and so will your associates. Kind words of acknowledgement and appreciation go a long way to motivate people. Perhaps the pandemic will bring about a greater appreciation for retail food workers and those who harvest, pack and prepare the food that we offer in stores. Remind everyone that they are doing vital and respected work for their store and for their community. Your words and actions will make a difference.
This series will continue tomorrow with Logile’s recommendations for additional suggestions for retail store employees to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.