Apple's retail stores are among the most recognizable (and profitable) retail locations. They are almost always crowded with people browsing the company's products, learning how to use them, or getting help with troubleshooting problems. Now, they are all empty.
Apple has closed all of its stores worldwide, with the exception of those that have started reopening in China. The company says it has taken lessons learned from its experience in China and applied them to its locations worldwide.
Apple says those lessons include understanding "the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus's transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance. As rates of new infections continue to grow in other places, we're taking additional steps to protect our team members and customers."
In addition to Apple, retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Publix have changed their operating hours as well. Walmart, for example, has now said its 24-hour locations will now be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. "This will help ensure associates are able to stock the products our customers are looking for and to perform cleaning and sanitizing," the company said in a statement.
Target hasn't changed its hours yet but says it is adding employee hours to its drive up and pickup services, to allow customers to continue to shop without having to spend time in its stores. A statement from the company's CEO, Brian Cantrell, says:
On top of our daily cleaning procedures, we're adding hours to each store's payroll to make our routines even more rigorous. This means more time is being spent cleaning our stores, including cleaning surfaces like checklanes and touchscreens at least every 30 minutes.
Grocery stores have stopped allowing sampling of food in-store, and regional grocery chain Meijer has stopped counter service in their meat and deli departments.
Retail locations have been forced to change the way they operate in the midst of two competing circumstances. The first is the fact that consumers are suddenly searching for high-demand products like toilet paper, sanitization products, over-the-counter medications, and non-perishable food.
The second is the move towards social distancing, where people are encouraged not to gather in groups, but instead, to maintain a distance of six feet when they interact. Grocery stores, especially, face a challenge as they try to meet needs while protecting the health of both their employees and their customers.
The reality is that every business should be considering how to balance two needs: those of their customers and those of their employees. In some cases, like Apple, that may mean shutting down retail locations. In others, like grocery stores, that's not practical without causing even more disruption to the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans.
We're obviously past the point of when it would be good to come up with a plan. Instead, it's now time to start making real changes to how your business operates in an effort to protect your company, your team, and your community.