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Pharmacies as well as shops selling essential items such as groceries will remain open even as many other stores have closed. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Pharmacies as well as shops selling essential items such as groceries will remain open even as many other stores have closed. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Retail stores ramp up safety measures, cut staff strength

Outlets ensure regular sanitization, encourage online shopping to enforce social distancing

coronavirus, coronavirus pandemic, Retail stores, safety measures, job cut, employees hygiene, sanitization,

As India continues to see a rise in coronavirus infections, retailers said they were taking measures at stores, which were still open, to ensure the safety and hygiene of employees and customers.

As consumers stayed away from crowded places, retailers, who continued to run outlets selling everything from clothes and footwear to accessories and electronics, are ensuring regular sanitization, reducing the number of staff on the floor and encouraging people to shop online as they try to maintain social distancing among employees and customers.

Walmart India, which runs 28 wholesale cash and carry stores, said it was “deeply sensitive to the need for social distancing at this time". As a result, the wholesaler has urged small businesses and retailers that shop from its stores to do so during slack hours and take advantage of its omni-channel presence by shopping online at the Best Price website (bestprice.in) and get orders home-delivered. “This will decrease chances of physical contact and help reduce the spread of the virus," a Walmart India spokesperson said.

While grocery and sellers of essential goods are allowed to remain open, those that sell apparel, accessories and footwear have been ordered to down shutters.

Footwear and apparel retailer Woodland has shut 80 of its 600 stores as mandated by state governments.

“Even the others are operational with minimal workforce in the interest of our team members. As a brand, we are cautious and care for the health of the consumers as well as our staff and, thus, we have transitioned to minimal or variable staffing till the situation improves," Harkirat Singh, managing director of Aero Club, said. “This (online sales) is bound to grow further till physical environment is made safe." The company might add or reduce the number of operational stores “depending on the tense, dynamic situation we are in", he added.

Value retailer V-Mart has shut 15% of its stores in the last few days in line with directives local and state authorities. The retailer, which operates more than 260 stores, has closed outlets in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. “There are stores closing down everyday in different parts of India, this can be at the district-, state- or city-level, wherever the administration requests are coming in from," said Lalit Agarwal, chairman and managing director of V-Mart. It is also considering reducing its working hours across stores, as consumers mostly stay away from crowded places.

Landmark Group, which runs Lifestyle and Home Centre stores in India, said it has disabled biometric attendance system and stepped up employee education on hygiene and cleanliness. “We have discontinued assistance services that require contact such as beauty trials and makeovers. We have also discontinued product testers. Additionally, for our employees at the store, we are imparting online training through an app, which they can access on their mobile phones," said Venkataramana B., Landmark’s group president for human resources.

The local arm of German wholesaler Metro Cash and Carry said it has increased the number of sanitizer stations in its stores and is providing masks to employees, customers and suppliers, who visit the stores.

“We test each entrant with infra thermometers at all our stores and refuse those customers, whose temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We have a dedicated quality officer, who is stationed full-time at each of our stores. To avoid crowding, we are ensuring plenty of cash tills and mobile checkouts," a company spokesperson said.

On Thursday, Swedish furniture retailer Ikea said it will close its store in Hyderabad starting 3pm on Friday. “Customers will still be able to buy online," IKEA India CEO Peter Betzel said on the company’s website.

In the last few days, several states and districts have directed malls, cinema halls, bars and local markets to temporarily suspend operations, as they step up efforts to contain the spread of the deadly pandemic, which has affected over 200,000 people globally.

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