Thousands of Arkansans have adjusted their lives in big ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from working at home to attending online church services. But everyone still has to eat.
Some shoppers are changing the way they get their groceries, and others are wondering what the future of visiting supermarkets will look like after life returns to some resemblance of normal.
Bentonville-based Walmart made big changes during the pandemic, including limiting how many people can enter stores at a time, setting up one-way aisles, and more. Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods and more even installed sneeze guards in check-out lines to protect cashiers, according to TODAY.
A spokesperson from Target said, “The health and safety of our team is a top priority. We’re asking team members to stay home if they’re sick and providing resources to make that possible.”
The Minneapolis-based chain said it’s providing employees with face masks and gloves to wear while at work and waiving its absenteeism policy. Target also offers employees quarantine pay for 14 days and confirmed illness pay at 100 percent of their pay for 14 days.
Some customers have put off going into stores as a health precaution during the pandemic.
Walmart told Arkansas Money and Politics it has seen “unprecedented demand” for its grocery pickup and delivery services.
“We’ve worked hard to make more and more spots available to customers and will continue to do so after the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.
Mary Grice is a retired teacher in Bentonville. She said a trip to her local Walmart neighborhood market two or three times a week is common for her. Grice is also immunocompromised.
“I live alone in a small place with little pantry and storage space, so I’ve become used to ‘gathering’ every few days rather than stocking up,” Grice said.
With that said, the pandemic has caused Grice to change up her shopping routine. The retired teacher said she uses grocery pickup and plans what to purchase ahead of time due to needing a minimum of $30 to use the service.
“I pick a couple of recipes and plan when I make my list. The pickup is great, but often things are unavailable or substituted right at the end of the time before pickup, and it messes up my recipe plans anyway. Ha!” she said.
When it comes to her future grocery shopping habits, Grice said, when things return to normal, she’ll likely return to in-store shopping.
“I don’t get out a lot, except to meet a friend for lunch or to shop a little, so I really enjoy tootling around in the store even if I only need a couple of items. I have missed getting to leave the house,” she said.
Of course, she won’t be rushing back out immediately due to safeguarding her health.
“I may continue to utilize the pickup service when I need heavier stuff like a carton of waters, gallon of tea or milk, etc. That has been an added bonus having that put directly into my car. I can’t lift heavier things,” Grice said.
The pandemic has changed her thinking and planning when it comes to grocery shopping, according to Grice.
“I used to do a lot of drive-through take out. It’s not easy cooking for one, and I don’t enjoy leftovers. But, I have gotten used to cooking more again and will probably continue to do so, thus buying more groceries and planning better before going to the store,” Grice said.
The educator added that while she does miss restaurants, eating drive-through food has become tiresome at this point. Grice also looks forward to having friends over to her home for dinner in the future.
“I’ve enjoyed slowing down and would like to keep some semblance of that even after restrictions lessen,” she said.
Larissa Tucker lives in Conway and works in technology for Acxiom. She said grocery shopping was a weekly trip for her. But Tucker also spontaneously grabbed items after work if she needed something.
Once the pandemic hit, though, Tucker said she started spacing out grocery trips to every couple weeks.
When things go back to normal, Tucker said she’d like to continue planning out meals and grocery shopping every two weeks.
“I feel like I am also considering whether something I want to buy is actually necessary. I am making more well thought out purchases and fewer spontaneous purchases,” she said.
She predicts that in the future her two-week trips will continue as a habit.
“I feel like once a vaccine is out we would go out more. Until then, we would practice social distancing when considering outings and events,” Tucker said.
Joanna Horn is a pharmacy technician in Little Rock, and before COVID-19 hit, she shopped for groceries about once a week.
Aside from social distancing and wearing a mask, Horn’s grocery shopping habits remain generally the same, she said.
Once things return to normal, the pharmacy technician said she doesn’t think she’ll make any more changes to her shopping routine.
“Thought I like the six-foot stickers on the floor,” she said.
Horn said she didn’t panic buy or hoard items during the pandemic. She’s just tried to include a few measures in her shopping to keep safe.
The rush to digital that caught retailers off guard when the pandemic first hit will ease a bit since shoppers will be anxious to get out and about, according to Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail. Of course, she said new consumer habits will also be ingrained.
“The digital-forward movement will have permanently accelerated as shoppers that tried various clicks-to-bricks options during the pandemic realize how easy and convenient shopping can be,” she said. “Rather than memories fading, some impressions and preferences will be indelible, particularly regarding store cleanliness and touch-less transactions.”
The smarter retailers, Spieckerman said, will just continue ramping up capacity to address incoming shifts and prepare for surges yet to come.
COVID-19 has left its mark on consumer spending in a variety of ways. Some customers may even find online shopping for groceries has an increased appeal even after the pandemic winds down.