By Ben Norris
With social distancing very much set to continue for the foreseeable future, we decided to take a look at the last bastion of modern civilisation: supermarkets.
One upshot of the Covid-19 pandemic is how it has very plainly illustrated which services and amenities really are essential; the supermarket workers and resuppliers, while not performing the same duties as doctors and nurses, are still integral in keeping the nation from starving.
We thought we’d take this opportunity to look at how different supermarkets in Stroud have adapted to the challenges posed by Coronavirus and what they’re doing to protect both their staff and their customers.
A number of us visited some of Stroud’s hottest destinations (one by one, on alternate days when we needed groceries – social distancing is paramount here folks) and judged them according to how they were making shopping safer for their customers.
They were graded on eight points: hygiene, enforced distancing, stock levels, staff security, queue safety, zoning effectiveness, checkout protection for till workers, and payment security (such as the introduction of higher contactless limits).
Out of Stroud’s assorted places of retail, Stratford Park Tesco emerged as an early frontrunner; the chain have implemented effective social distancing measures, and the store appears to have gone to considerable pains to protect its staff and keep them safe.
A queuing area comparable in length to anything you’d find at Thorpe Park or Legoland has been constructed in the rear end of the car park, which typically moves fairly quickly.
Staff on the door regulate the number of shoppers inside the store to maintain a safe maximum, and on walking in an attendant is present to wipe basket handles with disinfectant. There are also cleaning stations in the car park for customers to wipe down trolley handles.
Inside, the aisles have been separated into one-way lanes, with zoning areas introduced for queuing for checkout; not all customers seemed aware of these, but it does seem to help in reducing contact between customers.
Stock levels were good, with almost everything in good supply barring flour (in the household aisle there was enough toilet roll to last a family of four a lifetime, so clearly bog roll is no longer in excessive demand).
Staff on tills were protected by plastic screens, and shoppers were encouraged to stay at the rear of the checkout desk while other customers finished bagging up their groceries – the in-store contactless limit has been increased to £45, which is a help for smaller shops.
Sainsburys, the other major retailer in the Five Valleys, hasn’t performed as well as its nearest competitor.
Although it had active trolly cleaning stations, there was no one-way system in place when one of our contributors paid a visit, and there were more customers crammed into the aisles.
If there was any sort of system in place it was never abundantly clear, save for when staff told shoppers that they’d violated it in some way.
Most of the other protection measures mentioned above, such as screens around tills and zoning for queues, were in place, but staff weren’t wiping basket handles; stock levels were good.
I’ve visited the Coop at Cainscross twice since social distancing measures were enforced; on both occasions shoppers were queueing outside, although the line moved quickly and staff were clearly enforcing a low number of shoppers as the store itself was nice and quiet.
On my first visit staff had no protective screens or gloves, whereas on the second visit they had both; this indicates a slightly slow response to the issue from Coop, but it’s good that steps were taken to improve the security of their workers.
There was no zoning or separation of aisles, but customer numbers were low enough that this wasn’t a particularly pressing issue.
Stroud’s Aldi, naturally a popular destination for its stocks of budget goods, is often busy; on one occasion I visited to find a queue the length of the car park, and the number of customers inside the store reflected this.
However, most Aldi stores tend to be designed with a natural flow in mind and it’s stock levels are the best in the business.
An honorable mention also goes to Waitrose, as we have heard reports that its wider aisles are lending themselves well to social distancing.
However, none of us wanted to splash out extra on our weekly shop so as yet we haven’t been able to carry out a first person review of the store.