Small Businesses in the Wake of COVID

By Kayla Guacci

In the last few months, as non-essential businesses have begun to slowly open back up for in-store shopping, they have had to implement new protective procedures to ensure the safety of their staff and customers as per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) requirements.

Face coverings are now required in all businesses. In most stores, you encounter clear barriers that have been added in front of cash registries to keep a distance between cashier and patron. With the CDC’s recommendation a number of businesses are requiring their customers to use contactless forms of payment such as apple, google pay, and debit/credit cards.

For those who don’t wish to enter stores, many businesses are offering the choice of curbside pick-up. This allows customers to place orders online, drive up to designated spots in the parking lot and have an employee come out to place their purchase in the trunk of the car. This has become one of the most rapidly growing firms of shopping.

MSN Money reports that 51% of shoppers have placed an online order during the pandemic and 31% said that they will begin to shop online more.

“I haven’t entered a store since April, and I plan on continuing that until everything’s back to normal,” said Lisa, 56, while waiting for her drive-up order at Target. She only navigates public spaces when absolutely necessary. “I take my 80-year-old mother to her doctor’s appointments and we go to my daughter’s house those are our outings.” She said that she has become well acquainted with shopping online for groceries over the course of the pandemic. “Oh, I’ve tried all the services name any one I’m sure I’ve used it.”

Lisa is not alone. According to the Brick Meets Click, a company that monitors online grocery shopping statistics, Americans spent $7.2 billion buying online groceries in June. “We have so many drive-up orders coming in that we are using the food court dining area as a place for ready orders,” said one Target drive up employee. 

Lowes has set up designated areas in their parking lots where employees are posted under tents as they wait to serve their online customers. Those willing to venture inside stores are greeted at the door by workers who offer to clean their carts and dispense hand sanitizer. Long lines await those at checkout where patrons are socially distanced six feet apart as they follow indiction markers on the floor. I asked one local business owner how customers have reacted to the new changes.

“The response was surprisingly positive,” she said. “Most people follow our new procedures without any difficulty, and those who forget have only needed a gentle reminder. It’s not as you see with those videos online with people refusing to wear face-coverings. I’ve been very pleased”.

Not everyone can claim such a positive experience. Several customers in the same store freely remarked to me that while aisles had been dedicated to one way movement, many guests carelessly walk about without any consideration to those who try to adhere to the rules.

In grocery stores self serve options such as salad bars with hot food choices, and sushi have been temporarily shuttered until the safety measures are lifted. Food samples once freely offered in stores had also been halted to ensure safety, however, in June Costco stores resumed product sampling with employees masked behind glass handing out prepackaged foods.

In April, Wisconsin based home improvement store, Menards announced they were no longer allowing children under 16 years of age to enter their stores in an effort to lessen the number of people allowed in. Those who appear under 16 will be asked for identification at the door.

Not all changes are evident as you walk through the doors. Return policies have been affected by the pandemic as well. Some stores have enacted a more lenient approach offering an extended period of return while others such as Walmart have adopted a strict no return policy.

 In other businesses, supplies are being delayed by international border policy. Shelves sit bare as merchandise slowly trickles in. While shopping at one popular home decor store I asked a fellow patron how they felt about the selection.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said. “I guess I should have come when they first opened up but I just wasn’t going to risk it… I think I’m going to stick to online shopping until everything calms down.”

A sentiment echoed by many throughout the store. One wonders how long this can last. Its permanency is anyone’s guess, as the pandemic shows little signs of ebbing. It seems we all will just have to sit and wait.

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