The 2020 pandemic has shut many businesses and institutions down, but the grocery store industry has not been one of those. Essential workers everywhere have witnessed a drastic increase in business as customers have progressed through the stages of panic, stockpiling, and quarantine boredom (we all know about the baking and coffee-making phases).
I myself have seen a notable uptick in the business of Raley’s, where I work as a courtesy clerk. The more people are home and the more restaurants are less accessible, the more pantries and fridges need to be well-stocked. This may be especially true when college students are back at home!
With the uptick in business, how are grocery stores faring in the middle of a pandemic?
Health and Safety Guidelines
Health and safety regulations have grown increasingly strict in the grocery store environment these past few months.
Raley’s employee Yesenia Campos Aguilar sanitizes shopping carts. (SignalPhoto/Schuyler Becker)
A source from the Save Mart chain, who chose to remain anonymous due to their liability as an employee, was willing to answer some questions about their store. “Before and after each customer we are required to spray and sanitize the belt/pin pad/ scale, this being a great germ killer. At the same time it is a technology killer. We’ve sprayed and cleaned the pin pads so much that many of them have stopped working correctly and have lost sensitivity to the pen itself, which makes customers have to use their fingers.”
Another new COVID trait of grocery stores has been the addition of plexiglass dividers. The Save Mart source comments that “It’s a great idea other than the fact that the glass is put near the belt rather than between the customer and employee.”
Celeste Riva from the Grocery Outlet chain says, “Our store is sanitizing the checkstands every 30 minutes, the carts every hour and [after] every cart run done, and door handles throughout the store every hour.”
Raley’s has also practiced similar cleaning measures. One Raley’s employee, Haley Dyson, shares that the store has been wiping down carts as they are brought back in as well as all the surfaces in the store (such as door handles and check stands) every 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has been a stressful time for many, and essential workers have been subjected to a great deal of outbursts from customers. The Save Mart source says customers have been on edge and more aggressive.
“We are constantly told we aren’t doing our jobs correctly or the belt isn’t clean enough, the pen doesn’t work, etc.” says the source, adding that “We often take our masks down to get a breath of air and it seems every time we do so we have a customer taking photos or getting angry and speaking up about it. Sadly, they are wearing a mask for the amount of time they are shopping while we are required to wear it inside and out — break room and bathroom for practically nine hours a day. The least we could get is a thank you.”
Riva shares, “Our customers are split with a little over half being very understanding and wearing masks and the other half being reluctant to wear masks or just flat-out refusing to.”
Dyson states, “Most customers have been understanding, but there are many that constantly complain about items that are difficult to stock such as Lysol.”
The Save Mart source also mentioned that handling these issues was harder at first, as the store was “booming” at the beginning of the pandemic. “We had to form lines outside due to overcrowded aisles and the six foot rule. Currently it is a steady speed of customers in and out. There’s days we do have to limit customers [though].”
Dyson explains that her Raley’s location had a similar experience. “When the pandemic started, the store was as busy as it was during Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
Dyson also explains that she works in ECart at her store, which is a drive-thru pickup service. “I work in ECart so there are also a lot of elderly individuals that are fearful of going to the store amidst the pandemic and are very grateful for our service.”
Dyson says that the ECart service has seen a rise in customers of all age who are trying to take extra precautions. “Our Ecart Department has grown a lot since the pandemic started. When it first hit, the department had five people and now we are up to 13 people. We’ve broken all of our records multiple times.”
Online Pick-Up and Delivery
According to an article by Statista, “During a March 2020 survey of consumers in the United States, 74 percent of respondents stated that if confined to their homes during the coronavirus, they were likely to purchase grocery store items online.”
The influx of online grocery shopping has been so extreme that an article by eMarketer states that a “March 2020 survey conducted by CivicScience found that just nine percent of US adults had been able to digitally order groceries during the pandemic without any issues. One in three respondents experienced delays in digital grocery orders or were unable to place an order.”
The Save Mart source relays that when it comes to online shopping, “Save Mart at the moment has teamed up with Instacart which allows you to have your groceries delivered, as well as DoorDash, which is more towards fresh food such as steaks or deli products.”
I can affirm that these two services have collaborated with Raley’s as well. For Save Mart customers, the source adds, “Instacart itself is super busy. They bring us a lot of business during this time, I’d say every day we have more than 30 individuals that do Instacart all hours of the day.”
Riva says that her Grocery Outlet is not offering grocery pick-up or delivery services because they don’t have the technology for it.
Raley’s does offer both pick-up and delivery services, and as previously stated, the ECart Department has experienced substantial growth in its online customer base.
Food and supply shortages have been a real issue the past few months, causing grocery stores to face many unpredictabilities when it comes to receiving shipments.
The Savemart source says, “Our stock has been lower than normal, bread shipments have been late, coke products and other soda products have been low in stock as well due to the warehouse. We have a bare shelf in the Lysol and wipes department as well.” Although things have since calmed down more, there are still instances of bare shelves to be found in grocery stores.
Dyson states, “There has definitely been more orders coming in as well as more items being out of stock. There aren’t as many food shortages, but we are missing very specific items. We’re having a difficult time getting cleaning supplies in stock, as well as certain flavors such as caffeine free Coke.”
Grocery Outlet has had less food shortages, simply due to its generally limited item structure. Riva says, “We don’t face food shortages because our product varies on what we are able to order off a pick list, so we always have limited supplies of the stuff on our shelves. Basically, what you see on the shelf is all we have 90 percent of the time.”
Looking ahead, the grocery store environment has begun to calm down since the beginning of the pandemic. Although the pandemic has posed mostly negatives, it has placed a spotlight on the grocery stores and how they will respond, which has resulted in some positive measures.
For Save Mart, the source says “The only thing I see that has improved are the benefits of COVID. Due to COVID we are served a free lunch as well as a hazard check every Monday. Since we are union our benefits are different from others.”
These benefits have helped to ease the burden of the many stresses that come with working in customer service during a time of upheaval.
The sanitation measures implemented by grocery stores has also proven to be a thorough practice in cleanliness. The main improvement that Dyson notes is that “More people are wearing masks! Although not as many as I’d like.”
Riva adds, “I think the biggest improvement in our store is closing the bathrooms to the public because it helps to keep us, the employees, safe and also it is one less thing to worry about when there is a rush or having to sanitize every 30 minutes.”
However, this is not true for all stores. Raley’s and Save Mart still have their restrooms open.
All stores are different, so it’s always important to consider all options to help you choose what setup may be best for you. Happy shopping!