Even though we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic (though I hold our hope efforts to “flatten the curve” prove successful) I’ve started thinking about what everyday things will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. In particular, and because it’s my beat, I’ve been thinking about grocery stores.
Here in Washington state, the shelter-in-place order has been extended for another month to May 4th at the very earliest. This means that the Albrecht house at least, will continue to its grocery shopping online. We’re settling into new routines with different mail order subscriptions, delivery and curbside pickup offerings. Those habits are will likely become even more ingrained and our new normal. In other words, my physically going to the grocery store could very well move from minimal to almost not at all, even with a lockdown lifted.
But actually visiting a grocery store on the other side of this outbreak will undoubtedly be a different experience with the changes being implemented.
For instance, plexiglass shields are being installed at checkouts to better protect cashiers against human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. It’s hard to imagine those coming down any time soon, or at all. Beyond COVID-19, there will still be cold and flu seasons, and this pandemic has (hopefully) put a healthy fear of viruses into the general population. I imagine those barriers are here to stay, and really, given all that grocery store workers are doing for us right now, that’s not a bad thing.
But perhaps this pandemic will accelerate the adoption of cashierless checkout, eliminating that point of human contact altogether. Just scan your phone as you walk in, grab what you want and leave, getting charged automatically. Previously, the big issues around cashierless checkout was the impact it would have on human jobs and access for the underbanked. The problems around equity will still need to be figured out, but perhaps if delivery and pickup become the new normal, those cashier jobs can migrate to other parts of the store.
Which brings up the question of what other parts of the store will there be? Most markets near me have closed down the salad and hot bars. People breathing (or coughing) near open food + serving utensils used over and over suddenly doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Will grocers become more like cafeterias, with an official store person ladling out your soup? Will there be more vending machine-like services dispensing food? Those don’t seem like dumb ideas.
And if we’re cutting down on reusable items, will the sanitizing of carts be automated? Will a cannister of wipes at the entrance enough, or will we see car-wash style drive thrus for carts and baskets?
Finally, how will we move about stores, especially when we don’t want to be too close to one another? If there are no salad bars, will regular aisles get wider? Kroger is testing out one-way aisles at one of its stores to help reinforce social distancing. While I haven’t tried it out, this is an idea I can get behind, especially when shopping during a pandemic. During my last trip to the grocery store in person, people were wandering the aisles haphazardly and not really paying attention. Granted, we’re all in a daze right now, but perhaps a few arrow decals on floors could add some order to the store.
I don’t know what the post-pandemic grocery store will look like, but changes are coming. What do you think will happen? Leave a comment below and share your opinion!