- Target plans to "actively monitor" and potentially limit customer traffic at its stores in an effort to enforce social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.
- The company said limits on traffic would vary by location. As stores try to reduce congestion, a store's size will factor into those decisions. Where Target imposes limits, workers will designate waiting areas outside stores with social distancing markers, the company said.
- Target also plans to distribute disposable face masks and gloves for all its store and distribution center employees within the next two weeks. Additionally, Target said it would donate 2 million KN95 respirator masks to medical workers and is looking to secure additional inventory for those in "critical need."
While stores across the country have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, mass merchants and wholesalers have stayed open and experienced sales spikes.
Those retailers supply critical goods for households, but they are also potential vectors of the disease. Recognizing that, Vermont this week placed restrictions on big-box retailers, specifically naming Target, Walmart and Costco. In the state, retailers can only sell essential goods like food and household necessities in their physical locations, a measure taken to limit traffic inside of the stores that remain open.
Vermont's main commerce agency instructed stores to close aisles or remove products from those areas that sell non-essential goods, which the agency said includes arts and crafts, beauty, clothing, consumer electronics, entertainment, home goods, jewelry, sports equipment, toys and other product categories.
"Large 'big box' retailers generate significant shopping traffic by virtue of their size and the variety of goods offered in a single location," said Vermont's Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle in a statement. "This volume of shopping traffic significantly increases the risk of further spread of this dangerous virus to Vermonters and the viability of Vermont's health care system."
Target has pointed to an "unprecedented" demand and traffic surge for food and household essentials at its stores as customers stockpile for an extended period indoors. For the first few weeks of March, comparable sales for food and essentials were up more than 50%, the company said.
That has forced the retailer to put off other plans for the year. Target said last month it was cutting back and stretching out its planned store investments, including refurbishments and new smaller-format stores. At the same time, Target is investing $300 million to meet the frenetic and potentially dangerous new selling environment. Much of that money is going to higher wages for its front-line workers ($240 to $480 per employee, according to the company) and bonuses for its 20,000 team leads.
Even before Target's self-imposed measures, there was evidence of a steep drop in traffic to its stores. According to foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai, traffic was down nearly across the board in retail. And as of March 31, it was down in double digits at Walmart, Target and Costco after rising earlier in the month, a possible indication that consumers stocked up at those stores and then have limited their shopping since.