By Sam Wankowski - Chief Operations Officer, Walmart Canada.
Like all Canadians, our customers were worried when the pandemic hit.
Whether it was concern for their families, their jobs, the fear of COVID-19 in their communities or just navigating life under lockdown, there was a lot to manage.
For me, a new baby born during the pandemic meant all kinds of changes and fears too.
Diapers and wipes pushed my regular grocery shopping staples further back in my cart. I started ordering more groceries more often from Walmart.ca – which a lot of our customers did too.
For Walmart, there was an immediate need to implement new safety protocols in our stores and support our associates.
As a leadership team, we asked ourselves; how do we create an environment where our associates and customers can serve their communities, and feel safe? We didn’t want a visit to Walmart being something else people had to worry about. With so much uncertainty, Walmart needed to continue being what it’s always been – the reliable retailer people trusted.
The responsibility was significant. It still is.
We got to work quickly by introducing new safety enhancements; plexi-glass at the checkouts, one-way aisles, floor markings to encourage physical distancing, limits on the number of customers shopping in the store at a time, wellness and temperature checks for associates, mandatory face coverings, sanitizing shopping carts, and other measures that a year ago would have seemed implausible.
We also introduced new technology, such as an internal app so associates at the door could count customers coming into the store.
Now, as we all enter the second wave, Walmart is continuing to make safety paramount in all aspects of our operations. (See video here).
We’re still challenging ourselves and wondering if there are additional measures we can take. We’re still adapting too. For example, we have taken steps to increase the fresh air flow in our stores.
And we will soon launch another feature on the Walmart app where customers can book a time to shop if there is a line-up outside.
Though, all along, we knew we had a secret weapon – our people.
Our associates are the ones who make our customers feel safe and welcomed. They are the first and last faces customers see when they shop at Walmart.
I am so humbled by everything they are doing. They have shown the true Walmart spirit by rising to the occasion and helping countless Canadians in their time of need. We introduced a number of measures to support our associates, such as no-cost access to tele-health care professionals, including mental health support and counseling, through EQ Care as well as enhanced discount days and accelerated bonuses.
Though, I think it’s the ownership mindsight that separates our associates from the rest.
An associate in Richmond, BC told me recently that their store turned their Checkout-With-Me kiosk – designed to be a roving kiosk to check out customers quicker – and turned it into a roving sanitizing station with wipes and sanitizer for customers.
And in Guelph, Ontario, a store introduced a new process to separate customers at the checkout by queuing further back from the checkout. The system is simple and promotes physical distancing.
But we can always do better.
We’re always challenging ourselves and evaluating if there are additional safety measures we can implement.
Because I know that every day, there is a mom and dad or aunt and uncle, just like me pushing their shopping cart around the store. They are worried about their kids, their jobs and their families. They want to be safe, and just maybe, enjoy a sense of normalcy.
And Walmart, just like we always have, has to be there for them.