Together with all industries right now, the retail world is heavily affected by COVID-19. In response to this rapidly expanding crisis, retailers from across the world have come up with creative ideas to help their employees, consumers, and communities. In this month's edition, we will mainly focus on these ideas. Not only to show how flexible the industry can be but also to understand how some companies are approaching the situation so others can learn from it now and in the future.
There is less work for McDonald's employees in Germany now that the restaurants are closed. At the same time, Aldi Nord and Süd stores experience busier times due to COVID-19. Therefore, the retailers and the restaurant chain collaborate in providing work. Employees of McDonald's can start at one of the stores or in a distribution center, with regular working conditions. Once the virus has passed, they can return to their jobs at McDonald's.
Because elderly people are the group most heavily affected by COVID-19, retailers develop special arrangements to make their lives a little easier. Esselunga has waived delivery charges for customers above the age of 65 for home delivery where possible and donated €2.5 million to hospitals and institutions involved in taking care of the affected and engaged in scientific research on the disease. Others, including Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Pick n Pay, and Dollar General have installed special shopping hours where only elderly people can visit. Woolworths started offering care packages to people struggling to buy the essentials during the COVID-19 outbreak, including the elderly and people with disabilities.
Colruyt and Delhaize will deliver groceries for free to staff in hospitals. The two announced that they will equally divide the hospitals and invite other competitors to join. They want to offer as many hospital employees as possible the chance to get groceries delivered close to their workplace.
A small robot helps customers of an Edeka store to keep distance from each other. “Pepper”, who is actually a care robot, has been placed in the checkout area of the branch and informs customers electronically about the protective measures as well as asking shoppers to show care and consideration for one another. “Pepper” has a child-friendly “facial expression” which makes many people smile. The robot can move its head and arms. It follows customers’ eyes and guides them through the security zone at the checkout.
With alcoholic sanitizer supplies decreasing, Brazilian beer brewery Ambev SA (a subsidiary of InBev), will use one of its beer breweries to produce half a million bottles of sanitizer for public hospitals. It wants to deliver 5000 gel bottles to every public hospital in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. The sanitizer will be packed in soft drink bottles. Ambev SA is not the only one pursuing this chance to help in the crisis; different spirits and perfume producers like Bavaria and Dior have started sanitizer production around the world.
Retailers including Albert Heijn, Albertsons and Waitrose have installed plexiglass barriers at checkout counters to protect employees. The glass will prevent physical contact between shoppers and employees. Carrefour even ordered special masks for its employees. In addition, retailers ask shoppers to pay with their bank card instead of cash, also to prevent spread of the virus. Shopping baskets/carts are obligatory in many supermarkets to ensure a maximum number of visitors in a store, and demonstrate 1.5m social distancing with lines on the floors. Dutch retailer Plus brought handwash facilities to its stores for extra hygiene.
Dutch retailer Jumbo is helping healthcare employees by opening a pick-up point inside a hospital where employees can get a grocery package with essential products for two to three days. The idea is that healthcare workers can get their essential groceries even if they don’t have time to go to the supermarket.
Retailers have been investing in in-store technologies to increase shopper experience or efficiency across the supply chain for years. Now, the same technology is being used to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Artificial intelligence (AI) is used to predict purchase patterns. The information can be used to manage high-demand product stocks that are vulnerable to hoarding and panic-shopping. Self-checkout stations help with social distancing since there is no interaction between shoppers and the cashier and there is no cash involved. Retailers keep these stations as clean as possible to prevent the spread even further. Facility Management robots help with cleaning floors and notifying store employees of potential problems, which give store associates more time to assists shoppers or clean equipment.
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