COVID-19

Ahead of the holidays, retailers compete on store safety

Marielle Segarra Nov 12, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Signs are placed to direct traffic inside the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia, California, in October. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Ahead of the holidays, retailers compete on store safety

Marielle Segarra Nov 12, 2020
Signs are placed to direct traffic inside the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia, California, in October. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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If you look at the websites of major retailers right now, you’ll find long lists of their COVID safety precautions. Some you might be familiar with: plexiglass shields, mask requirements, limits on the number of customers allowed in the store at one time. 

And heading into the holidays, stores are trying some new things too.

“A lot of retailers are offering reservations in certain areas, where people can come in, meet with a specific shopper, kind of get all of their shopping done at once. Or like at Target, for example, they can reserve a spot in line,” said Lauren Beitelspacher, who teaches marketing at Babson College.

Target is also setting aside more parking spots for curbside pickup and allowing customers to scan their own items, touch-free, and then pay with their phones. Meanwhile, Walmart is touting its own touch-free payment app. And Best Buy has an option where you can buy online and pick up at a store in an hour.

This is starting to feel a bit like a safety competition. Because it is.

“I definitely think it’s a competitive advantage now,” Beitelspacher said. “No retailer is going to survive if they are seen as a superspreader.”

A lot of their potential customers are still worried about getting the virus. So each of these retailers is trying to position its stores as the safest option. “Just like a few years ago, retailers had to convince customers that they were protecting their data; now they have to convince customers that they’re protecting their health,” Beitelspacher said.

Otherwise those people might just shop online — probably at Amazon.

These changes will cut into retailers’ profits. “It’s costing them in just the materials of putting up the plexiglass dividers, putting the signage up, setting the store up as with display so it’s easy to get around and not be crowded,” said Craig Rowley, senior client partner for retail consulting at Korn Ferry. They’ve also had to hire more workers to constantly sanitize store surfaces, he said.

But as long as the virus is around, these are costs retailers will just have to accept.

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Pfizer said early data show its coronavirus vaccine is effective. So what’s next?

In the last few months, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have shared other details of the process including trial blueprints, the breakdown of the subjects and ethnicities and whether they’re taking money from the government. They’re being especially transparent in order to try to temper public skepticism about this vaccine process. The next big test, said Jennifer Miller at the Yale School of Medicine, comes when drug companies release their data, “so that other scientists who the public trust can go in, replicate findings, and communicate them to the public. And hopefully build appropriate trust in a vaccine.”

How is President-elect Joe Biden planning to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it’s created?

On Nov. 9, President-Elect Joe Biden announced three co-chairs of his new COVID-19 task force. But what kind of effect might this task force have during this transition time, before Biden takes office? “The transition team can do a lot to amplify and reinforce the messages of scientists and public health experts,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director for the Immunization Action Coalition. Moore said Biden’s COVID task force can also “start talking to state leaders and other experts about exactly what they need to equip them to roll out the vaccines effectively.”

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