Survey: Retailers create COVID-19 store protocols for holidays

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Retailers are taking numerous steps to ensure the safety and comfort of employees and customers.

According to a new survey of about 300 retail executives from UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), “Retailers Rethink Holiday Season Strategy,” 91% of respondents are confident, and 54% are “extremely” confident, that stores will be open and fully operational on Black Friday (Nov. 27). 

However, 83% of respondents say closing a store during the busy holiday season due to COVID-19 is not unthinkable, and 53% say they would voluntarily shut down store operations and tell employees to stay home if their region were experiencing rising cases of COVID-19. If stores are forced to close for an extended period during the holiday season, 59% have a contingency plan to keep store associates employed. 

More than seven in 10 (72%) respondents anticipate store employees will feel anxious or stressed about COVID-19 while at work, and 81% think it’s possible that employee concerns about the virus could lead them to quit mid-season.

Two-thirds of respondents (67%) reported that store employees tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020, and 76% say they “realistically” expect some associates will test positive during the holiday season. Almost all respondents (95%) believe they have an obligation to notify employees who may have been in contact with a co-worker who tests positive for COVID-19.

However, while 90% of respondents think it’s important that their stores implement a COVID-19 contact tracing program before the holiday season begins, only about half say it’s very (28%) or extremely (26%) likely this will be rolled out to all stores in time. 

To protect people in stores, 55% of respondents will conduct employee health screenings before each shift, and 28% will cover the cost of testing for employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of health coverage. 

Workforce flexibility is more important than ever, say 80% of respondents. Extra steps to maintain employee well-being include making schedule accommodations for at-risk employees (46%), compensating associates for work schedules even if they are instructed to quarantine (39%), and keeping a pulse on workforce well-being via employee surveys (36%).

Respondents are placing new responsibilities on store managers to help mitigate possible effects of COVID-19, including overseeing and enforcing heightened safety mandates (72%) establishing cleaning protocols for their location (66%), intervening with disruptive customers on behalf of employees (66%) and being far more visible on the floor this holiday season (47%).

In-store safety is trending, as 83% of respondents will require employees (83%) and customers (82%) to wear masks and will increase cleaning frequency (80%), as many others will enforce social distancing (73%); provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff (67%); use transparent shields/barriers (60%); and manually monitor and limit store occupancy (50%).

More than eight in 10 respondents (83%) will offer curbside options this season—compared to just 44% in 2019 and 34% in 2018—while nearly half say all stores will offer curbside pickup (48%) and call it a “top priority” for staffing (47%).