retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post this morning has a story about how "major supermarket chains are beginning to report their first coronavirus-related employee deaths, leading to store closures and increasing anxiety among grocery workers as the pandemic intensifies across the country."

From Walmart stores in Illinois to a Trader Joe's in the suburbs of New York City to a Giant in Maryland, employees are reported to have died from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The Post writes that "though more than 40 states have ordered nonessential businesses to close and told residents to stay home to stem the spread of the virus, supermarkets are among the retailers that remain open. Thousands of grocery employees have continued to report to work as U.S. infections and death rates continue to climb, with many reporting long shifts and extra workloads to keep up with spiking demand. Many workers say they don’t have enough protective gear to deal with hundreds of customers a day. Dozens of grocery workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks."

KC's View:

The Post story makes the point that at the same time as food retailers are looking to hire thousands of people so they can keep up with pandemic-driven demand, they also are playing catch-up in terms of adding elements to their stores - like plexiglass that separates checkout personnel from customers - that will do a better job of protecting people from infection;  they're also doing things like taking the temperatures of employees when they show up for work, as a way of pre-empting at least some potential problems.

There have been some criticisms of retailers for not moving fast enough to make these adjustments, and even preventing employees from wearing masks.  Some of those criticisms are fair, but I think it is important to put those actions in context - a lot of those stores are operating in places where politicians have not taken the pandemic as seriously as they should, and have set a tone making it difficult to be more proactive.  Let me be clear, though - this is an explanation, not an excuse.  When public officials don't do their jobs, it is up to businesses to get ahead of the curve.  Which many have done over the past weeks.  Admirably, I would argue.

Which brings me back to this morning's FaceTime commentary.  It is time for some retailer to step up and say that if customers are not wearing masks, they cannot enter the store.  Period.  Letting people in stores without masks right now is to put employees and other customers at risk.  Which is unacceptable.  If someone shows up without a mask, the store can offer to take his or her list and do the shopping for them, or, if they are available, offer them a mask that they must wear while in the store.  But the industry needs to take some leadership here.  And it needs to do so now.