Here's how your next trip to Walmart will be different

Large retail stores are tweaking store policies in order to better manage the risk of exposure to the coronavirus for both customers and employees. The next time you make a run to Walmart or Target for some essentials, your shopping experience will be different.

The new policies were enacted Saturday. The biggest change announced by both retailers is the limit on the number of shoppers allowed into the stores at one time. Walmart has a more specific policy than Target, at least as both stores released statements on the change. Walmart is going with a 20% policy – five customers per 1,000 square feet in the store.

Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store’s capacity.

To manage this restriction, the associates at a store will mark a queue at a single-entry door (in most cases the Grocery entrance) and direct arriving customers there, where they will be admitted one-by-one and counted. Associates and signage will remind customers of the importance of social distancing while they’re waiting to enter a store – especially before it opens in the morning.

Once a store reaches its capacity, customers will be admitted inside on a “1-out-1-in” basis.

Target’s statement was not as clear. Instead of a one-size-fits-every-store plan, Target seems to be more flexible with the decision made according to the size and location of the store.

To promote social distancing with its team and guests, Target will monitor store traffic, and meter, or limit, the number of guests inside stores, when needed. Occupancy limits will vary by location and be determined by the store’s specific square footage to enhance the average space per person and reduce the possibility of congestion. If metering is required, a Target team member will provide a designated waiting area outside with social distancing markers.

Target is providing face masks and gloves “to wear at the beginning of every shift and strongly encourage that they be worn while working.” Walmart also said it will provide gloves and masks to employees who want them.

Once you are allowed inside Walmart, you’ll be moving through the aisles in a one-way direction. In order to help customers avoid coming in close contact with others, floor markers and associates will help direct store traffic. Stores will post signage reminding customers about social distancing, especially in lines. When it is time to exit the store, customers will use a different door than used to enter the store, lessening the chance of passing closely to others.

Walmart included a reminder of what the company has already done for employees to date:

We care deeply about our associates’ health and well-being, and in recent weeks we’ve taken steps such as expanding our paid leave policies; closing our stores overnight for cleanings and restocking; installing sneeze guards and social distance markers in stores; beginning temperature checks, and starting to make gloves and masks available to associates who want them.

In the Target press release, the company included a summary of actions taken to protect its employees to date:

Investing more than $300 million, including higher hourly wages for frontline team members through at least May 2, which amounts to $240-$480 per team member. Also, for the first time, Target’s paying out bonuses to the 20,000 team leads who manage individual departments in stores.

Extending benefits to team members, including waiving Target’s absenteeism policy, offering quarantine pay for 14 days and confirmed illness pay at 100% for 14 days, and making backup care available to all team members.

Offering the opportunity to team members who are 65 or older, considered among the most vulnerable by the CDC, or are pregnant to take a fully-paid leave for up to 30 days.

Offering dedicated shopping hours so front-line team members can purchase the essentials they and their families need.

Our brave new world during the coronavirus pandemic brings an abundance of new rules and adjustments to everyday life. An ordinary trip to Walmart or Target now includes crowd control and restrictions on the movements of shoppers – even which way you go up or down an aisle.

Shopping is stressful now, there is no way of getting around that. To wear a mask and a pair of gloves in public is the question everyone must answer. The simple act of picking up an item in a grocery store, for example, makes a shopper think twice. I’ve only been out to pick up items inside a grocery store and drugstore a couple of times and the level of stress and anxiety I felt was a surprise. It’s the new normal, at least for now.

Some tips offered by Target employees across the country to make the next shopping experience a little less stressful include these – go early in the morning when the shelves are most fully stocked, honor the early morning hours set aside for senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems that some stores have implemented, call the store in advance to check on product availability, consider using online order pick-up, shop alone, be careful what you touch, and most importantly (for me) is don’t expect to find everything you want. That last one is the biggest adjustment, isn’t it? Americans are so accustomed to taking for granted that the item we want to purchase, or the brand we prefer, will be available. That isn’t the case anymore.

This is where I offer a big thank you to all the truckers out there who are working overtime to deliver food and supplies to stores across the country. Their life isn’t so easy right now and their work is essential.