Retailers that deem themselves an essential service during the novel coronavirus outbreak are taking new measures in stores, like installing Plexiglas shields at cash registers and limiting the number of customers, to protect shoppers and staff from COVID-19.
Grocers, which have seen demand spike as coronavirus fears prompt people to flock to stores and stockpile supplies, made moves to give their staff time to restock shelves and clean stores, as well as other measures.
Empire Co. Ltd., which owns the Sobeys and Safeway chains, started to install Plexiglas shields at some stores Thursday night. It plans to roll out the protection to every store as soon as possible.
"We are announcing a series of new measures to further enhance the stepped-up sanitation protocols at our stores," wrote Empire Co. Ltd. president and CEO Michael Medline in a statement posted on the Twitter account for Sobeys.
"We tested Plexiglas cashier shields as yet another safeguard to protect our teammates and customers from this terrible coronavirus."
The shields "stand out as a strong safety precaution" among best practices the company looked at from around the world, he said.
The company will also reduce store hours to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to allow staff more time for new sanitation protocols and to restock, he said. Staff will be required to wash their hands every 15 minutes and cashiers will disinfect their tills more frequently.
The company will also add floor markers to queuing areas to help customers maintain proper social distancing of two metres apart.
Loblaw Companies Ltd. announced similar changes Thursday, reducing operating hours to give staff time to clean and rest, CEO Galen Weston said in a video posted to the company's Twitter account.
Loblaw is prepacking more products to reduce touching, and will limit the number of customers allowed at a time in its busiest stores to help shoppers and staff with social distancing.
"These changes will lead to a very different shopping experience, but they are necessary," he said.
Metro Inc. announced Wednesday it would temporarily shorten its hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for most of its brands to allow staff to restock shelves, clean and rest.
Other retailers have also tweaked operations to help prevent spreading COVID-19 while people shop.
Best Buy Canada said it will temporarily close five of its stores, in addition to all its mobile locations located in malls. The company has more than 175 stores across the country, according to its website.
The company also closed a store in Ajax, Ont., after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to its website. The employee is in quarantine, other staff were asked to self-isolate, the store is being cleaned, and the company is trying to contact customers who visited the store earlier in the month.
It has closed some additional stores to everyone but customers who reserved something online to pick up in the store, which can be obtained through a window pick up service.
For most of those that remain open, hours have been reduced to between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. and the number of people allowed in is limited.
"We are offering limited services within the store," according to its website. "Customers arriving at a store to find a specific product will be escorted by an adviser with the goal of completing an expedited visit while adopting social distancing guidelines."
Best Buy is not accepting cash payments and shifted in-home services to virtual consultations.
The company is choosing to stay open to help fill Canadians' technology needs amid the pandemic, CEO Corie Barry has previously said. It has found people are requiring products to help them run a small business, shift from an office to their home, educate their children outside of school as well as store and prepare meals.
Canadian Tire Inc. decided to close its non-essential retail banners, including Mark's and SportChek. It reduced hours for Canadian Tire retail stores.
The company's precautions include more store cleaning; encouraging staff to undertake strong hygiene practices; offering hand sanitizer and wipes throughout stores; and providing staff with masks and gloves, reads a letter from CEO Greg Hicks dated Thursday.
"We are doing the best that we can to support you and your local community, while at the same time doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19," Hicks wrote. "With all of us working together, and supporting one another, we will get through this."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.
Companies in this story:(TSX:EMP.A, TSX:L, TSX:MRU, TSX:CTC.A)
Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press