Supermarkets limit number of shoppers to promote social distancing

Australia’s biggest supermarkets are following the lead of overseas retailers by introducing measures to control the number of shoppers in store at any one time to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Aldi, Coles and Woolworths have all indicated that they will be monitoring the number of customers entering and exiting stores, to allow customers to practise social distancing, particularly in the run up to the busy Easter weekend.

Customer limits vary depending on the size of the supermarket and will be managed using a one in, one out policy.

Woolworths is adding signage and a coned area outside stores to show shoppers where to line up and plans to work with local centre management security and police to manage queues outside the store at peak times and ensure customers are keeping the recommended 1.5 meters apart.

Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said the system will not be in place at all times, but rather as an aid to manage busy shopping periods.

“Depending on how busy the store is, we may limit the number of people entering the store from time to time. Customer limits will be specific to each location and based on the size of the store,” Peters said.

“Traditionally, the Thursday in the lead up to Easter is one of our busiest times in-store. We ask our customers to pre-plan their Easter shopping to avoid the usual Thursday spike in numbers.”

The return of Woolworths’ Pick-Up service for Priority Assistance returns this week at 100+ Pick up Drive thru stores and 600 in-store service desk locations, which may slightly ease foot traffic in stores.

From Monday, Coles will be putting similar social distancing measures in place during busy periods.

“Team members will be at store entrances to provide assistance and let you know when it is OK to come in. We ask that you follow their instructions and any signs in-store so we can safely serve as many customers in the community as possible,” Coles CEO Steven Cain said in an update to customers.

The supermarket giant has also created a video to advise customers of the changes and is also asking shoppers to shop alone where possible.

Less than two weeks after reducing trading hours to facilitate store cleaning and restocking of shelves, Coles is now choosing to extend its regular trading hours to 7am – 10pm, with some stores opening from 7am – midnight.

Cain said the move is to allow people to shop “when it’s most convenient” and encouraged shoppers to visit stores late in the evening, when it is typically less busy.

Discount supermarket Aldi is once again making a temporary change to its trading hours. From Monday, it will open from 8:30am-7pm and will shut all of its stores on Good Friday and Easter Sunday to give team members “a well-deserved break”. 

Security guards will be used to enforce customer flows at Aldi stores.

“With assistance from security, all stores will manage the flow of customers into our store, which ranges from 70-100 shoppers dependent on the store size. Customers will be asked to queue 1.5 metres away from each other outside the store, until directed by security or store employees to enter the store,” the retailer said in a statement.

All supermarkets have ramped up cleaning and sanitation in stores in recent weeks. Floor markings have been introduced at the major retailers to promote social distancing, and at Woolworths and Aldi, plexiglass screens have been added to protect staff and customers.

Aldi said its store and warehouse employees have access to gloves and masks, but based on Health Department advice, it is not mandatory for employees to wear these.

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