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Drug chains respond to pandemic

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NEW YORK — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and with more grim numbers for both the health of individual Americans and the health of the economy capturing the headlines, retailers have taken unprecedented steps to remain a viable source for essential goods and services while keeping their associates and customers safe.

Fresh research from IRI and Boston Consulting Group — “COVID-19 Impact: Consumer Spending Tracker” — on the effect the virus is having on businesses and consumers makes it clear that it is no longer status quo. As the outbreak has accelerated across Europe and the United States, shopping behavior has changed at light speed, according to the report, with drastic shifts in consumer purchases in Italy, France, Germany, New Zealand, the U.K. as well as the U.S.

In the U.S. in particular, customers are both making more trips and buying larger baskets, according to IRI Consumer Network panel data, with pantry stocking and smaller quick trips up significantly. E-commerce trends in the U.S. show a significant uptick as well. Chain drug and mass market retailers, especially their pharmacy components, are scrambling to respond and adjust to this rapidly evolving “new ­normal.”

CVS Health, for instance, is awarding bonuses between $150 and $500 for employees required to be in its facilities to serve patients while providing 24 hours of paid sick leave available to part-time employees — on top of 14 days of paid leave for employees who test positive for the virus.  Additionally, as unemployment numbers skyrocket, the company is looking to fill 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary positions, which includes store associates, delivery drivers, distribution center workers and customer service ­employees. And in CVS stores and pharmacies, customers will notice many differences, such as disinfectant stations to wipe down carts and baskets; signage and floor markers to remind shoppers to maintain proper social distance; employees outfitted with CDC-approved masks and gloves; staff cleaning hard surfaces and frequently handled items; new protective panels at check out and pharmacy counters; and fewer signatures required on PIN pads at checkout.

In mid-March, Walgreens announced adjusted operating hours at its stores, with most locations (including 24-hour stores) opening from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., even its 24 hour locations — though 24 hour drive-through pharmacies have remained opened as usual. As with CVS, Walgreens is hiring, announcing last month it is looking to fill some 9,500 store roles in the U.S. and is also offering a one-time bonus — $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time. Walgreens also updated its attendance policy so employees can stay at home for issues related to the coronavirus, including child care or health care needs. Employees testing positive will have two weeks of paid sick leave. Along with keeping its drive-throughs open, Walgreens is offering consultations with health care providers via the Web, including pharmacy chats, and free delivery of prescriptions and additional resources for seniors, such as weekly discounts and dedicated shopping hours.

For its part, retail giant Walmart has installed plexiglass barriers at its pharmacy lanes and registers and floor decals in stores at the entrances and in checkout lanes to encourage social distancing. On March 18, Walmart announced special hours for seniors (as of now March 24 to April 28) in which the retail will hold a “senior shopping event” every Tuesday in order for elders to shop before the store opens to the general ­public. Regarding its employees, Walmart began basic health screenings last month, such as taking temperature readings of its associates on reporting to work, with those employees registering a temperature of 100 degrees sent home until they are three days fever free. Walmart is also providing masks and gloves “as supplies permit” for employees. The retailer previously announced most associates will be provided instant access to 50% of their earned, net wages weekly through June.

Target plans to supply its more than 350,000 team members in stores and distribution centers with face masks and gloves to wear at work, while continuing to encourage healthy hygiene habits as provided by the CDC. These updates are on top of other actions the company has taken in recent weeks.


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