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Retailers Step Up During An Unprecedented Week

What a week!  Covid-19 reaction hit the tipping point in the United States.   As of Sunday, March 22, one in four Americans is required to stay at home unless seeking or providing an essential service.  Most consumers in the rest of the country are voluntarily adopting the same behaviors.  The impact on the Retail Industry here has been uneven and unprecedented.   Retailers, suppliers and other partners have had to adopt a new playbook to keep business going.  Starting today we’ll be providing a weekly summary of tactics that retailers are implementing to respond to this evolving situation.   This week’s top 10 focus on retailers’ positive actions to serve both customers and employees:

  1. Contactless delivery – as widely reported, thousands of stores, malls and restaurants in the U.S. have closed, shifting business on-line. Where possible, stores have continued local delivery or pickup.  For many retailers pickup has shifted from in-store to curbside.  Local delivery conducted through Instacart, Dominos and others have “leave it at my door” options for customers so they can eliminate direct exposure to delivery personnel.  At Petco, for pet parents with a sick animal, the company has implemented new curbside hand-off processes for Veterinarian visits supported by text notifications.
  2. Store hour adjustments – retailers remaining open from Home Depot to Walmart are reducing store hours to enable time for employees to restock shelves as well as conduct enhanced cleaning and sanitizing. Many grocery and mass retailers such as Whole Foods, Publix and Target are offering specific shopping hours that are available only for older or immunocompromised shoppers.
  3. Covid-19 specific processes in store – stores that remain open have instituted new procedures to enhance the safety of employees and customers. At Costco for example, employees wear gloves, shopping carts are sanitized after use and are distributed by an employee individually to shoppers as they enter the warehouse, signs remind shoppers to maintain social distancing and employees remind shoppers throughout the store. Best Buy is limiting the total number of shoppers in store to 10-15 to enforce social distancing.
  4. Extended return windows for items purchased in store – Sephora was one of the first and now most other retailers with extensive store networks have changed return policies allowing shoppers that purchased goods in store to return products once stores reopen. For Sephora that means extending the returns to 30 days after store reopening date.
  5. Free shipping and returns for items purchased on-line – On-line fees for shipping and returns have been eliminated by most retailers. Styling fees for subscription programs such as Trendsend by Evereve have been significantly reduced where the fee is now $1.  Return windows for on-line purchases have also been extended.  Sephora has extended the on-line return period from 30 to 60 days.
  6. Purchase limits on key items – We’ve all laughed at the memes on toilet paper hoarding. As a result of these behaviors, retailers have implemented purchase limits on high demand items such as bottled water, paper products, fresh meat and disinfectants.
  7. Prioritizing essential items – Amazon has suspended shipments of non-essential items into its warehouses to focus resources on high demand household staples and medical supplies. In Italy and France, Amazon has temporarily stopped taking orders for non-essential items.
  8. Expedited hiring and cross-company sharing of workers – While jobless claims jumped 30% this week, retail employers in food and consumables are facing a labor shortage. Amazon announced plans to hire 100,000 workers and has implemented expedited hiring practices to get new employees on board quickly.  Walmart has announced the need for 150,000 new workers and 7-11 is adding 20,000 jobs.  For immediate help we’re seeing the emergence of cross retailer cooperation:  Aldi in Germany is using displaced McDonald’s employees as temporary workers.  The arrangement will allow the fast-food workers to return to their McDonald’s jobs when things return to normal.
  9. Paid leave or bonuses for employees and partners – To keep workers on the job and motivated, retailers are increasing wage rates, providing bonuses or paying bonuses early. Target announced it is temporarily raising pay by $2 an hour until at least May 2, and giving bonuses to 20,000 hourly employees.  They are also providing paid leave for up to 30 days for employees in high-risk categories such as over age 65, pregnant or with underlying medical conditions.  Leading Retailers that have closed store based operations such as Nordstrom, Macy’s and REI will continue to pay store personnel during the shutdown period.
  10. Shift from promotional to informational communications – CEOs and business owners have been reaching out to customers and employees this week with messages detailing their responses to the pandemic.   These range from reminders about enhanced sanitation procedures to store closures or changes in the retailers shopping experience.  Our favorite, below, is from a local restaurant that includes a reminder to customers to be patient and kind during this difficult time.

Image Credit: McMillanDoolittle

Please send any tactics that should have a spot on our list to

Applause to all of the hard working associates and their leaders who are taking time from their own families and friends to keep us supplied with food and essentials.   Stay healthy out there!

Mara Devitt

Mara Devitt guides retailers, brands and solution providers to identify and execute opportunities to innovate and grow. She has spent over 30 years focused on the direct to consumer segment with extensive experience with complex global clients as well as start-ups.

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