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Store Employee Compliance And COVID-19 Fatigue

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Although the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the United States seem to be coming down from their July heights, the country still is dueling it out with Brazil for the highest per capita new case count every day. Local governments in many communities, including Miami, where I live, have mandated mask wearing, and many retailers have mandated that shoppers must wear masks in their stores around the US. One assumes that mandate extends to employees.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the drive up window of my local pharmacy (I’m not going to name the name, for reasons that will become clear shortly), to pick up a prescription and the pharmacy tech who waited on me had her mask on below her nose. I asked her to please put it on correctly, but she did not do so until she had already picked up my prescriptions, put them in a bag, and passed them out to me. She stuck her head into the slot where meds typically go because she had a question to ask me, even though there’s also a phone for that purpose. I was wearing my mask. Hers just covered her mouth. This chain and its main competitor (the chain drug industry is really becoming a duopoly) had mandated mask wearing for customers by July 21 of this year. One would assume that extends to employees as well.

Honestly, I was gob smacked. When I got home, I wrote a Facebook post saying pretty much what I said above. The responses stunned me.

  • One friend reported the same from the “other” major national drug chain
  • Another friend said “I have seen this, many times”
  • Another: “I see that every day. Drives me nuts”
  • The simplest: “same, same”

There were more, but you get the idea. Fifty-seven comments, all saying essentially the same thing. Not all chain drug stores, but all were talking about retailers. At least six were pharmacy related.

This begs the question: what can retailers do to ensure compliance to standards? It’s very clear that a certain amount of “COVID-19 fatigue” has set in. It’s bloody hot down here. The heat index today is expected to be 110. That’s hot, even for late August/early September. Working in a mask is a drag. No doubt about it. But, you know, it’s part of the job. I hate wearing the things myself. But I like the idea of dying even less.

The “major competitor” I discussed seems to be playing “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Witness this comment from a friend who lives in Rhode Island:

After I got in there the script wasn’t even done (despite the text I received) I had to wait 10-15 mins mask on while the pharmacy tech had hers below her nose! They sent an email asking for my feedback. They got plenty of feedback from me! All I got in response was a 2-line email from the head pharmacist saying if I wanted to talk, I should call him.

I suppose she could have worked her way up the chain of command to corporate, or the district manager, but that seems sort of silly. And with an elderly mother who really needs her medication, it didn’t behoove my friend to make a bigger stink on the topic.

For myself, I came home, kept my gloves and mask on until I was indoors, and washed my hands profusely. And threw the KN95 mask away.

The question of compliance, and what to do about it is no small thing. The reality is no one really needs to use a chain drugstore anymore. You can get prescriptions filled at grocers, general merchants, warehouse stores and really, pretty much anywhere. Amazon is drooling for the business. The same is true of other types of retailers. I can get it online, or I can get it elsewhere. Mostly, I just shop online.

I did go to another retail store for kayak parts. Everything was good until I got to the checkout stand. There was a lot good there. Plexiglass, to keep the store associate and me apart. The store associate was wearing her mask. But they had not covered the stylus on the credit card machine with plastic. I tried using my own pen, but it wouldn’t work. The associate said, “Oh, it’s clean.” I said, “I don’t care, I’m not touching it.” She went ahead and signed the thing for me (that could get me into the “value” of chip and signature, but I’m not going to go there today.

So, what’s a retailer to do? Some simple steps.

  • Establish standards (no doubt this has been done)
  • Review standards with employees EVERY shift, EVERY day
  • Require managers to sign off that these standards were followed in every area of their store using some form of store task management software
  • Audit. Send in mystery shoppers (you know you do it anyway) to confirm that protocols are being followed
  • Use technology to highlight the best and worst at following standards in your company. That will winnow the number of action items down to a manageable number
  • Reward the best, and yes, punish the worst

I know I’ve said this before, but I won’t stop saying it. Consumers just won’t forget. It’s not for nothing that I always look for alternatives to Amazon now, unless I need the item really quickly. The company’s PTO policies during the lockdown were simply not acceptable. Of course, the company knows it, which is why we saw a spate of employee-featured commercials saying basically, “Oh, I went away, and came back and saw the company is way different now.” You’ll note that Walmart or Target don’t run those commercials. That’s because they’ve walked the walk. They have no amends to make and are still making handsome profits.

Customer loyalty is fragile. And along with COVID fatigue, there’s a fair amount of “breaking the rules” fatigue as well. Just make sure your company is doing the right thing. It could make the difference between long term success and failure.

Newsletter Articles September 1, 2020
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