5 Ways to Make Food Retail Safer for Customers and Employees
By: Michael J. Sutherland, Vice President, Solutions Architecture at Vixxo
As the coronavirus crisis drags on, many employees who remain on the front lines of essential retail businesses like grocery and convenience stores are finding anxiety and fatigue beginning to take their tolls. These workers do their best to ensure Americans have access to food and other necessities – at risk to their own and loved ones’ health – under the direst situation they’ve ever experienced.
Consumers feel this anxiety as well. Between social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, and pervasive shortages of certain foods and products, customers understandably approach these essential businesses with great trepidation.
Consequently, many business owners are acting with urgency to protect employees and consumers. This includes shortening store hours as well as the number of customers they let in to the stores at any given time to limit exposure to the contagion. Others provide hazard or appreciation pay increases to employees who must work during the pandemic. And some now take temperatures of employees when they report into work.
Visible Safety Speaks Louder Than Words
While these steps are welcome, retailers also need to consider more visible evidence of their commitment to keeping employees and customers safe. Feeling safe is largely a mental state triggered by visible manifestations of protection. Empathy is more effectively conveyed through action rather than words.
Below are five ways that stores can instill a greater sense of security for employees and consumers alike:
1) Enhance the safety of the physical facility. Cashiers are among the greatest of risk for COVID-19 infection due to their close proximity to hundreds of customers each day. Many major retail chains started installing plexiglass “sneeze guards” as a way to create a physical barrier between cashiers and customers in checkout lines. Businesses need to make sure that customer essentials, like credit card readers remain accessible on the customer side of the barrier. And don’t stop at just the cashier; customer service counters, pharmacy counters, and food service counters need the added protection as well.
2) Double-down on the cleanliness and comfort of the indoor environment. Businesses should enhance their regular sanitation practices to include everything from high-touch areas like self-checkouts, kiosks and ATMs to less trafficked areas and objects. More importantly, they should communicate and demonstrate all the enhanced steps they are taking. Customers want to see it being cleaned – not just be told the cleaning’s been done. The key is to create an appealing environment that is clean, well lit, and at a pleasant temperature so that workers and customers feel comfortable shopping at their stores.
3) Enhance physical security measures to put employees’ minds at ease. Many retail operations that traditionally operated 24/7 are curtailing their store hours. In some cases, doors have never been locked and store closing procedures never specified. Businesses that implement advanced security protocols beyond a simple lock and key demonstrate their due diligence and visibly send a message to their employees that worker safety is their #1 concern. Where entrances and exits were often through one alcove, customer traffic patterns are rerouted through separate alcoves, requiring adjustments to automatic door sensors and controls.
For those facilities operating at night, a well-lit, secure facility is more important than ever. Adjusted lighting schedules and extra attention to bulb outages improve a store’s overall appearance and security.
4) Create spaces that align with social distancing guidelines. Checkout lines are notoriously tight spaces. Make visual cues that identify proper distancing from the customer in front of the register to remind customers of where they should stand in relation to the person ahead of them in line. Some retailers are physically reconfiguring their checkout lines or idling every other register to create visible adherence to social distancing norms.
5) Expand access to personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and face masks to employees. Though these supplies are currently in short supply across much of the country, businesses should make every effort to acquire them and prioritize their use among employees at the greatest risk of contact.
Working or shopping during a pandemic isn’t easy for fearful customers, and employees; responding to the pandemic hasn’t been easy for retailers. But… instilling a higher sense of safety, comfort and empathy for employees and customers will go a long way to help us all get through these unprecedented times.