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Walmart is making a permanent change to its stores due to coronavirus

Published Jun 4th, 2020 9:09PM EDT
Walmart hours
Image: Anton Gvozdikov/Shutterstock

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  • Retailers have been making major changes to their operation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, like controlling how many shoppers are inside at any one time in order to maintain adequate social distancing.
  • Walmart has just announced that one of the coronavirus-inspired changes it’s made will stay in place indefinitely.
  • It’s the special hour set aside for elderly and vulnerable shoppers so they don’t have to fight the crowds.

I visited a Walmart store near me during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and I found it to be generally pretty early about making coronavirus-related changes to its operation compared to other, similar retailers.

This was the first retailer near me that also carried groceries which adjusted its operating hours, for example, in addition to limiting the number of people who could be inside the store at any one time. It was the first place I encountered an employee at the door with a clicker only allowing a few shoppers in at a time, as well as giant speakers outside blaring constant messages from the Walmart CEO on a loop, in a kind of dystopian “thank you for your cooperation” style. Another of the changes included carving out a portion of the store’s operating hours to serve only the elderly and vulnerable populations — a coronavirus-inspired change which Walmart is now keeping in place indefinitely.

To help people like older shoppers as well as pregnant and other vulnerable shoppers deal with the constant run on essentials like toilet paper and milk that retailers like Walmart keep experiencing during the pandemic, Walmart set aside a one-hour window every Tuesday for people 60 and older to shop. This group also includes shoppers designated in a high-risk category by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walmart has also designated an online order pickup window from 7 to 8 am every day at select pickup store locations. This hour is meant for seniors, as well as high-risk shoppers and first responders.

Walmart representatives told USA Today that its shopping hour for seniors and the most vulnerable has now been extended — indefinitely. The thought at the time when it was begun in March seemed to be that this was a temporary move, but Walmart then extended it through the end of May, and now the company says it’s in place until further notice. Other retailers following this same strategy include Target, Dollar Tree, and Costco.

Walmart’s extension of this store hour change is one example among many of how comprehensively the physical retail experience has changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Others include plexiglass sneeze guards installed in front of cashiers in checkout lines, as well as signage throughout stores that tell shoppers where to stand in order to maintain adequate social distancing from other shoppers.

Myself, I’ve started going out of my way to avoid stores that don’t accept Apple Pay or some other form of contactless payment, so that I touch as little as possible in a store during a visit (which includes money exchanged). Another major change I’ve noticed: Some retailers, like Target, are blocking off sections of their store when you enter so that everyone walks around where they want to go the long way. It’s so that we’re not crisscrossing each other in aisles, in other words — again, to maintain adequate spacing between shoppers.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.