Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, UK retailers have taken unprecedented steps to ensure shelves are remained stocked, online deliveries are done succinctly and that, most importantly, food safety measures throughout the chain are ensured.
In addition, those retailers have hired scores of new colleagues and taken additional precautionary measures to make sure those workers stay protected. Many have managed to deliver to charitable organizations, good causes and to those who are vulnerable.
Companies and their CEOs have communicated directly with customers, sending out updates and appreciation for their patience during the pandemic.
“Our colleagues have risen brilliantly to the challenges of recent days, but this challenge is unprecedented and inevitably, despite our hard work and best intentions, not everything has or will go exactly to plan,” Tesco CEO Dave Lewis said last week in a letter to consumers. “But we’ll take learnings, we’ll be informed by the latest guidance from the Government, and we’ll keep going. Importantly, we need your help to do this. Please buy only what you need, so that there is enough for everyone.”
Through the challenges, here are some of the initiatives that supermarkets in the UK have set forth over the past week to keep their businesses running safely and efficiently:
The discounter has enacted a slew of new measures to encourage effective social distancing, and to protect colleagues and customers in store. One very noticeable chance has been the roll-out of clear screens at more than 7,000 checkouts.
It also has taken these steps in its stores:
- Intsalled two-metre markers on the floors of stores to encourage responsible social distancing at the checkout.
- Encouraged customers to use contactless payment such as credit cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay, wherever possible, rather than using cash.
- Introduced a range of in-store notices reminding customers of the need for effective social distancing in store.
- Reduced opening hours to help colleagues to re-stock products while stores are empty.
One of the intial steps Morrisons took when the crisis hit was to guarantee pay for sick and affected colleagues and allow more flexibility around shifts and annual leave, including those at its stores, manufacturing sites and in its offices.
“Our unique team of food makers and shopkeepers have been absolutely outstanding in responding to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19,” the retailer said in a statement. “The whole nation, and especially Morrisons customers, are especially grateful for everything our colleagues are doing.”
Morrisons said “we are doing all we can” to protect colleagues, including:
- Putting transparent screens at every main bank checkout in almost all 500 of its stores.
- Providing disposable gloves, more sanitiser and other hygiene initiatives to colleagues.
- Significantly reduced the number of colleagues at our head office, Hilmore House, with many working from home, or moving to support stores and other Morrisons sites. Fewer people in the office means safe social distancing there too.
It also enacted several social distancing measures for colleagues and customers:
- A staggered entry system into all our stores, with marshals at the front-of-store to make sure customers get in as quickly and safely as possible.
- Reconfigured the flow of our stores, and introduced vinyl floor stickers and signage to ensure customers adhere to the social distancing guidelines while shopping and queueing.
CEO Mike Coupe drafted a letter last week to customers, outlining steps that have been taken over the past few weeks and those they will be implemented or have implemented recently. Those include:
- Limiting the number of people allowed in our stores and at our ATMs at any one time.
- Putting queuing systems in place outside stores, with at a safe distance of 2 metres apart.
- Asking customers to arrive throughout the day, not just in mornings, since products will be available all day.
- Reducing the number of checkouts in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol filling stations.
- Introducing safety screens at every manned checkout to help keep our colleagues safe when serving customers.
- Regularly sanitising all customer areas of our stores including chip and pin machines, baskets and trolleys.
- Reminding customers that elderly, disabled and vulnerable shopper have priority over all slots.
“Our customer Careline has been inundated with requests from elderly and vulnerable customers – we have had one year’s worth of contacts in two weeks,” Coupe says. “If everyone who shops in store also shops for a person who is less able, it will go a long way towards getting food to everyone who needs it”
“We really are doing our best to manage a very difficult situation,” Coupe says. “Demand for online grocery delivery is higher now than it has ever been. We are working hard to increase our online capacity and we are adding more slots in every day. But it is not possible for us to create enough slots to meet the current level of demand.”
In addition to pledging to hire some 20,000 colleagues last week, the retailer stepped up in a mission to provide food for customers at all of its UK stores, though one of its biggest challenges remains online, where consumers are having to wait weeks to have ordered confirmed.
“We know that it’s difficult right now to get a delivery slot for online shopping,” Lewis said. “We are at full capacity for the next few weeks and we ask those who are able to safely come to stores to do so, instead of shopping online, so that we can start to free up more slots for the more vulnerable.”
These are some of the progressive steps Tesco has made in the past week:
- Restricted 3 items per customer on all of its everyday essentials … while removing multi-buy promotions.
- In product areas where demand is particularly high, simplified our range to get more of the most popular products on shelves.
- Introduced a special hour in stores for NHS workers. Tesco says it is looking at how it can extend this to include extra days from next week.
- Prioritised one hour every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning between 9-10am for elderly and vulnerable customers.
And this is what Lewis says Tesco will do in the coming days to reduce the risk of infection for our customers and colleagues:
- Add floor markings in our car parks will help you to maintain safe distances when queuing.
- Limit the flow of people coming into our stores.
- Placing hand sanitisers around stores, as well as extra cleaning products to wipe down trolleys or baskets.
- At some stores, add directional floor markings and new signage, for better flow.
- Installing protective screens at checkouts.
- Creating separate entrances and exits to stores where possible.
- Supporting its 3,000 colleagues over age 70, as well as our vulnerable and pregnant colleagues, with 12 weeks’ fully paid absence.
“It’s a challenging time for the whole country, but we are committed to playing our part in feeding the nation and to keeping everyone safe,” Lewis said.
Waitrose & Partners supermarkets are doing their part as well to heed the government’s plea for social distancing, including adding protective screens at checkouts. Here are some of the new measures they’ve initiated:
- Limiting customer numbers in shops with shop managers will use their judgment on customer numbers and when the shop is at capacity, with NHS staff, elderly and vulnerable customers and those caring for them given priority checkout service.
- Two-metre marshals that will manage queues outside shops, with signage and coned areas.
- Floor signage to ensure customers keep two metres apart when queueing at checkouts and at Welcome desks. These will read ‘Leave space. Leave Safe. Help us to protect you.’
- Fewer checkouts to enable colleague maintain social distancing; where two checkouts are back to back one will close.
- Special protective visors for colleagues to use if they wish.
- New lift instructions stating that only one customer or family should occupy a lift at any one time.
- A drive to encourage more customers to shop in a “cashless and contactless” way to prevent unnecessary contact.