Walmart Reduces Store Capacity to 20% Amid Coronavirus Safety Concerns

Walmart rolled out new social-distancing measures this weekend amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Saturday, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company has begun to limit how many shoppers can be in a store at once. Outposts will allow a maximum of five customers per 1,000 square feet, which is about 20% of a store’s capacity. Once stores reach capacity, customers will be allowed in by associates on a “1-out, 1-in” basis, with associates to count and direct arriving customers. Additionally, Walmart is instituting one-way movement through aisles in a number of stores beginning this week, to “help more customers avoid coming into close contact with others as they shop.”

“We always want people to feel welcome at Walmart, and we know that in ordinary times a store is a gathering place for members of a community to connect and socialize. We look forward to the time when that is again the case; however, we now want to prioritize health and safety by encouraging customers to do their shopping at a distance from others, then head home,” EVP and chief operating officer Dacona Smith said in a statement.”

The latest procedures come in addition to other steps taken by Walmart in hopes of increasing safety and health of its associates and customers, including limiting store hours to allow for more cleaning and restocking, installing social distance markers and sneeze guards in stores and checking employee temperatures and making gloves and masks available to its associates.

Meanwhile, fellow big-box chain Target has taken a similar approach to reducing head count within its stores. On Saturday, the retailer started to actively monitor and limit shopper traffic across its outposts. Target has also started providing face masks and gloves to its store associates and distribution center workers.

While many fashion and footwear retailers have temporarily shuttered amidst the coronavirus outbreak, both Walmart and Target are categorized as essential retailers since they carry groceries and other key household items. Thus, the retailers are staying open even in states and localities with “stay at home” orders.

As panicked shoppers stock up on household essentials, Walmart has seen a surge in demand. A Wall Street Journal report indicated that the retailer’s in-store sales have surged nearly 20% over the past four weeks compared with the same time last year. Year-over-year, online sales have spiked by over 30% over the past eight weeks, while downloads of Walmart’s grocery app have “skyrocketed,” per WSJ. To keep up with this uptick in demand, Walmart has announced the hiring of an additional 150,000 workers.

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