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Retail in New York is taking a break
In New York, the Covid-19 crisis in the mass retail sector began to show its first signs on March 9. Long before New York State imposed more or less strict containment obligations, stores and brands spontaneously reacted quickly by putting in place rules to protect employees and respond to customer requests in stores or for online orders. However, the crisis is already making itself felt with alarming figures in the catering and non-food retail sectors. There will be a before and after Covid-19. In the meantime, with its strong customer culture, new in-store organisations or service innovations are emerging that place quality of service and the customer at the centre despite the current health and social crisis, the extent of which nobody is yet aware of.
Apple, Nike, Patagonia, Glossier, Urban Outfitters, Lululemon, Away, Warby Parker, Everlane, Allbirds, REI, Lush Cosmetics, Under Armour, Aritzia, b8ta, Abercrombie and a number of other retailers are closing their stores worldwide to help combat the spread of Covid-19 and encourage the practice of social distancing. Meanwhile, many other retailers, including Walmart, Publix and Kroger, are reducing store hours in the United States.
A brief overview of the initiatives of the various stores in the United States and particularly in New York for customers and their employees. We start with Whole Foods…
Although NY State is not in total containment, food retailers are organizing to protect employees and customers.
Such is the case with Whole Foods.
All stores now apply the rule of a single entry and a single, different exit point. The idea of course is to be able to count the number of people coming into the store and avoid passing customers as they exit.
At the entrance to one of the Whole Foods stores in Brooklyn, a team of employees is specially dedicated to cleaning all the trolleys used by customers. These employees collect them directly from the customers’ cars, nobody can touch them until the carts have been disinfected.
At the entrance to the store, hand sanitizing wipes are available to all customers.
The big change in the store is of course that all self-service products (rice by weight, cereals, almonds etc.) are no longer available. Also, it used to be possible to buy coffee “in bulk” in the store. The stand is now empty.
Finally, the stand for bagels and other individual pastries only offers products that are already packaged to avoid human contact.
The cashiers systematically clean their conveyor belt and all surfaces touched by products and people after each customer.
These measures are currently all more or less deployed in physical stores in New York City.
B8ta is a startup that offers to sell innovative technological products that the company has spotted in other startups. B8ta now has 22 stores around the world that serve as showrooms for consumer electronics and home products. On March 16, the company announced that it had temporarily closed its stores until March 28, or longer in certain areas where it has a mandate.
Impact on employees
CEO Vibhu Norby, in a message dated March 24, said B8ta had had to lay off more than half of its employees and impose pay cuts on those remaining in the company. The company, which had previously guaranteed compensation from March 15 to March 28, is offering its in-store employees a one-time relief cheque of $1,000 “for each full-time b8ta tester” and $500 for each part-time b8ta tester. Employees on leave will not receive a pay cheque but will retain health care coverage.
The CEO has since sent a letter to his employees explaining his choice and offering some interesting training offers to employees who had to be laid off.
Opening a training account for its employees and ex-employees to enable them to come back better trained and more competent in their company or elsewhere is also betting on the post-Covid-19 period.
The world leader in physical commerce has begun installing Plexiglas barriers in its pharmacy aisles and checkout counters, and is installing floor stickers in store entrances and checkout aisles to encourage social distancing. WalMart has previously adjusted store hours from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. On March 18th, the retailer announced that from March 24th to April 28th, the retailer would offer a “senior shopping event” every Tuesday for more vulnerable people to shop for an hour before stores open.
Systematic cleaning of checkout conveyors and stores is of course a must.
Impact on employees
Most full-time associates will receive $300 in bonuses. WalMart has also waived the cost of video-conferencing with a doctor (previously $4 per call) and employees can access three free “behavioural counselling” sessions.
Despite its 1.5 million employees worldwide, WalMart will be hiring temporary employees to meet the extremely high demand in its stores and distribution centers. 150,000 temporary positions will be opened by the end of May and the recruitment process will be reduced from two weeks to 24 hours.
Founded in 2012, Instacart is a nearly $8 billion U.S. company that operates as a same-day grocery delivery and pick-up service in the United States and Canada.
Customers purchase groceries via the Instacart mobile application or Instacart.com. The order is then shipped and delivered by an Instacart personal shopper. Until the end of 2017, Instacart had operations and services only in the United States.
Today, Instacart is available to more than 85% of U.S. households in all 50 states.
Instacart expects to add 300,000 personal shoppers over the next three months as demand for grocery delivery increases in North America.
The company has seen order volume increase by more than 150% in the last week alone, and average basket size has increased by 15%. Instacart will focus on adding buyers in states where demand is highest, including California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia and Ohio.
According to a statement by Instacart founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta, the last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart’s history. Not only are consumers ordering groceries for themselves during the coronavirus outbreak, but they are also ordering for their parents, neighbours and older friends who may be new to the platform.
The increasing demand for grocery delivery in the midst of the pandemic is not unique to Instacart. According to a survey by Gordon Haskett, one-third of consumers reported buying groceries for online pickup or delivery in a week earlier this month, and 41% said they were buying groceries online for the first time.
Impact on employees
Instacart has introduced new protocols and incentives for its personal buyers. The company will offer up to 14 days of compensation to buyers who receive a diagnosis of VIDOC-19. It will also provide health and safety guidelines for buyers, as well as a hand sanitizer for use in the workplace. A “Leave it at my door” delivery feature has been activated so that customers and workers can practice social distancing.
To attract new workers en masse, Instacart is opening up waiting lists for buyer positions across the country. It is also intensifying outreach efforts in high-demand markets and increasing referral bonuses for existing buyers.
The office equipment store has announced reduced opening hours, with all stores closing at 9pm. Every Wednesday morning, Target will offer a dedicated hour for “vulnerable customers” so that they can shop in peace. This chain of stores is currently much used by customers working from home and needing office supplies to set up their “home office”. It is also very much used to buy equipment for cleaning or disinfecting their work tools.
Impact on employees
TARGET has announced an increase in employee wages of $2 per hour until at least 2 May. In addition, Target is paying bonuses to workers, including the 20,000 store managers. The store announced that it has increased pay to support “more rigorous cleaning routines,” made emergency care available to all U.S. team members, and covered up to 14 days of quarantine and illness for employees with Covid-19.
Unemployment figures are very alarming, with almost 17 million people looking for work, whereas before the crisis, the US economy was almost fully employed.
But what is even more shocking is that not all these registered jobseekers are yet receiving benefits, due to an archaic system that is unprepared for such a claim.
So in order to register for unemployment, you have to apply online and then call the job centre in your city. However, these centres do not have enough staff to handle all the applications and it can take several hundred calls to get an online agent to do the final registration.
Of the 17 million unemployed, only a very small number are able to receive benefits, making the situation even more dangerous at a time when the most vulnerable need medical care.