Safe Grocery Shopping Requires Obeying Rules

Stephen DeAngelis

May 14, 2020

People resisting social lockdowns appear to have little regard for rules in general. Many states have reported lighter traffic on their roads but an increase in the number of people caught speeding. As a result, some states have actually recorded an increase in traffic-related fatalities. One speeder in California was clocked going 165 mph on the freeway. Rules are important tools to help maintain civilized society as well as keep people safe. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, businesses, including my own, felt the need to let employees know how they were expected to conduct themselves on the job. Generally, these rules and guidelines are laid out in employee handbooks. Kimberlee Leonard explains, “It can seem like a lot of work to create employee handbooks and policies. After all, shouldn’t your employees know that they shouldn’t discriminate against a co-worker or give a female subordinate a kiss on the cheek? The reality is most people want to do the right thing, but sometimes they don’t have the knowledge or self-awareness to do so, until you create the rules. Obeying rules and regulations in the workplace creates an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable to do their job effectively.”[1]


Leonard adds, “When employees follow rules and regulations, consumers also benefit. The first benefit is working with happier, less-stressed employees when conducting business with the company. The second benefit is that the employees feel comfortable that they are protected and safe when working with the company. Both of these lead to customer satisfaction, and ultimately, to customer loyalty. When customers are happy, there are fewer complaints to deal with, thereby creating greater company morale and fewer costs for servicing problems. ” The pandemic has underscored the importance of knowing and obeying rules for both employees and customers. This is especially true in food industry, including grocery stores.


New rules in grocery stores


One of the first things consumers learned during the pandemic was just how necessary the grocery business is to their survival. Grocery workers have been tapped with “essential worker” status and their heroic efforts to keep food on the shelves are rightfully applauded. Keeping both customers and workers safe and healthy has taken on a new priority in the grocery industry. Krishna Thakker (@krishna_thakker), Jeff Wells (@JeffWellsWH), and Thai Phi Le (@thaiphi_le) observe, “Each day, retailers are announcing changes to their operations, from reduced hours to paid sick leave. All have implemented rigorous cleaning procedures and many are pushing hiring to keep up with demand.”[2] Some of those operational changes, they note, include “exclusive hours for vulnerable shoppers, shutting down foodservice and sampling services or limiting product purchases.”


Some stores require all customers to wear face masks before they are permitted to enter the warehouse. Other stores implemented one-way aisle traffic patterns. Here’s the rub, like speeders on the freeway, some grocery shoppers are endangering others by flaunting the rules. Sam Silverstein (@SilversteinSam) reports, “Getting customers to follow all of the new safety guidelines has been challenging for retailers, but shoppers seem to be disregarding directional policies with particular abandon.”[3] Disregarding shopping rules not only endangers fellow consumers, it endangers front line employees. Dacona Smith, Walmart Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, told Silverstein “some shoppers were creating dangerous conditions for employees by disregarding rules meant to slow the spread of the virus.” She stated, “While many of our customers have been following the advice of the medical community regarding social distancing and safety, we have been concerned to still see some behaviors in our stores that put undue risk on our people.” It’s dismaying to know some people would rather risk others’ lives than be inconvenienced. As Nancy Coulter-Parker (@NCoulterParker) reports, “Aside from the nation’s hospitals, no other sector has been on the front lines as of late than food retailers.”[4]


Shoppers still prefer shopping in person


In-store shopping was the overwhelming preference for grocery shoppers prior to the pandemic and in-store shopping has remained popular during the crisis. Russell Redman reports, “The prevalence of coronavirus nationwide hasn’t kept grocery shoppers out of stores, and many are shelling out extra to get what they want, a new Harris Interactive/Toluna survey reveals.”[5] Lucia Juliano, head of CPG and retail research at Harris Interactive and Toluna states, “Despite the social distancing and government warnings to stay home, Americans are still shopping for their groceries in store, and if they can’t easily find what they need, they are willing to pay more. The survey also reveals that paper and cleaning products continue to top America’s shopping lists, which could explain why many stores and online retailers are experiencing shortages in these respective areas.” She adds, “It’s very clear that consumers recognize retailers, service providers and brands are doing a phenomenal job working to get the public what they need and are communicating to their shoppers regularly and appropriately.”


Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told Silverstein, “While supermarkets may be struggling to convince people to abide by one-way aisle policies, the traditionally conservative industry stands to benefit from having been pressed to roll out untested policies in a hurry because of the pandemic — even if they haven’t all met with resounding success.” My advice: If you are going to shop in-store, follow the rules — for your sake, for the sake of others, and, especially, to help protect front line workers. Rachael Rettner (@RachaelRettner) offers a few suggestions shoppers can use before and during their grocery shopping excursions.[6] “Before you go to the store,” Rettner writes, “consider whether you really need to go shopping. Americans are being told to stay home as much as possible, and that means limiting trips to the grocery store. So if you only need a few items, try to get by with what you have and plan a big shopping trip for later.” She adds, “Delivery may be an option instead. Getting groceries delivered helps reduce the number of people going into stores and touching things, and helps people follow social distancing rules.” If neither of those options work, she writes, “try shopping at off-peak hours and buying as many items as you can from one store (rather than visiting multiple stores).” And leave the family at home. Perhaps the most important advice she gives is this: “Don’t go if you have symptoms.”


If you must visit the store, she writes, “Use hand sanitizer before entering the store and after leaving.” To be safe, you should bring your own supply. To be extra safe, bring a sanitizing wipe to clean the cart you use. Next, she writes, “Wear a mask. The CDC now recommends that people wear cloth face coverings when they go out, including when they go to the grocery store.” Other suggestions include: Practice social distancing and touch only what you intend to buy. When you get home, wash your hands.


Concluding thoughts


We all want the economy to recover; however, flaunting protective rules will only delay a return to normal. We’re in this together and following the rules is in our own best interest. And, one last bit of advice, drive carefully on your way home.


[1] Kimberlee Leonard, “The Importance of Obeying the Rules and Regulations in the Workplace,” Chron, 19 October 2018.
[2] Krishna Thakker, Jeff Wells, and Thai Phi Le, “Tracking grocers’ response to the coronavirus,” Grocery Dive, April 2020.
[3] Sam Silverstein, “Shoppers are flouting grocers’ one-way aisle rules,” Grocery Dive, 30 April 2020.
[4] Nancy Coulter-Parker, “Doing business better: 7 retail fundamentals to focus on during crisis,” Supermarket News, 21 April 2020.
[5] Russell Redman, “Most grocery shoppers choose stores over online during coronavirus crisis,” Supermarket News, 20 April 2020
[6] Rachael Rettner, “How to shop for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Live Science, 6 April 2020.