Store and Club Associates Adapt After the First Week of Social Distancing

March 24, 2020

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March 24, 2020
By Matt Smith, Walmart Corporate Affairs

Last week, shoppers preparing for a new way of life amidst the new coronavirus pandemic rushed Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs to stock up on the basics like meat, cleaning supplies and, of course, toilet paper.

The initial wave of purchases has made a few products scarce, but some stores and clubs are starting to adjust to a new normal. And that may just be what everyone needs.

Stocking Up

As social distancing plans started late last week, Sam’s Club manager Will Mertig knew they had to react fast to get members what they needed. Normally, his team has regularly scheduled trucks and two shifts of associates to stock the salesfloor.

But over the past week, Mertig estimated around 200 members have been waiting at the door for his club to open. With this kind of increased business, he’s had to rethink what’s normal.

Sam's Club Associate with customer and pallet of wipes

Now when a truck arrives, all associates swarm to the back dock to take everything to the salesfloor immediately. “It’s all about speed and efficiency – getting it there as fast as possible,” Mertig said.

At a nearby Walmart Supercenter, they’re having similar challenges. “I feel like once we put something on the shelf, we turn around, and it’s already gone,” eCommerce department manager Maria Sotelo said.

But as store manager Rissa Pittman pointed out, even though a few products like paper towels and toilet paper remain scarce, they’re being replenished each day. “We might not have it right away in stock, but the next day, we have a truck that will,” Pittman assured.

Whereas the quantities of the items are not quite enough to make shelves look as full as they did a week ago, customers and associates alike take comfort in knowing product is still flowing to stores.

“It’s a calming influence that toilet paper is coming in every day,” Walmart assistant manager Hamish Cameron added.

Time to Regroup

In response to the extreme demands on the stores, Walmart Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets are closing overnight. Apart from the needed time to restock, this change in operating hours has helped store associates take the time to clean and sanitize as well.

Pittman said they’ve created special “clean teams” who focus on cleaning and sanitizing the store at night. Fresh CAP Supervisor Tasha Martinez said fresh areas like meat and produce are getting special attention.

GIF: Walmart Associate Cleans Refrigerator Door

“We are really good about cleaning and sanitizing, but now, we’re cleaning racks and coolers as soon as products come off the shelves,” she said.

Cameron said they saw an immediate difference by closing at night. “It’s a really great opportunity to get clean, to get in stock, to regroup,” he said.

At the Sam’s Club, the team pointed out they’re sanitizing all the shopping carts as they’re gathered from the parking lots. Mertig mentioned a heightened focus on cleaning and sanitizing in the clubs as well.

GIF: Walmart Associates Clean Shopping Carts

Merchandising lead Adolfo Ramirez echoed his manager’s thoughts. “We used to be really strict on cleaning the restrooms, but now, it’s times 10,” he said.

And in both Sam’s Clubs and Walmart stores, more hand sanitizer dispensers and wipes have been made available to customers and associates to use while in the store.

Retail Therapy

Although the past few days have been a challenge to customers and associates alike, there is a rising sense of community and shared experience.

“A lot of us have seen that we are all in this together – from suppliers to truck drivers – everybody that’s working hard to get us stocked has really helped the morale of the store,” Pittman said. “This has given us a chance to prove to customers that we are here for them, and our associates are proud to serve.”

Walmart Associates Stocking Water

Mertig mentioned the Sam’s Club members he’s spoken to are glad for a little human connection as a respite to their social distancing. He said customers are in an uncertain state of mind, and being able to walk around and talk with associates can provide a much-needed connection. “We’re just there to have conversations and provide a little bit of normalcy,” he said.

As customers and associates get used to their new routines, a simple act like shopping your local store or club might be able to provide some comfort in familiarity.

“I already feel normality coming back. Now it’s time to start looking toward the future,” Cameron concluded.

Editor’s note: Since visiting the store and club, we’ve announced hourly associates will receive special cash bonuses and early Q1 bonuses totaling nearly $550 million. Keep up with all Walmart is doing in response to COVID-19 here.