We’re several months into the Covid-19 pandemic now, and life is starting to get back to a new normal with businesses slowly and carefully re-opening. Globally, we have all been affected by the pandemic in many ways, and Costco is no different. So let’s look at 10 ways Costco has been affected by the Pandemic (Part 2).
10. Food Court And Free Samples Are Back!
That’s right, while around 20% of Costco food courts started re-opening around April 30th, on a recent conference call Costco’s CFO announced that customers can expect almost all of Costco food courts to be open once again by mid June! That’s great news for any of us who’ve been missing out on favorites like the chicken bake, pizza slices, hot dogs, or desserts like fro-yo and twisted churros. All this deliciousness will once again be available at your Costco food court! But that’s not all, even more great news was announced on the very same conference call. Costco is also rolling out its famous free food samples once again! Having to be set-aside for obvious reasons, the free samples at Costco are truly part of the experience and one of the things a-lot of shoppers look forward to most on their trips to Costco. They are currently working on ways to distribute the free samples, without customers physically sticking their hands in a crowded tray. Stay tuned for details, but as of right now plans are for free samples to be back inside of many Costco locations also around mid June! This is obviously great news not only for Costco customers, but for anyone who is looking forward to life returning back to some form of normal!
9. Employees also have Limits on Purchases
It can be great being a Costco employee, and that has a lot has to with the perks that come with the job. In the past, a Costco employee had first dibs at purchasing products during store off-hours. But during the pandemic, Costco employees had to adhere to the same rules and limits that apply to customers. Despite what some people may think, employees did not receive special privileges. They too were not able to purchase certain items if they were out of stock, nor were they able to get first pick or hoard certain items like sanitizing wipes before the store opened to members. Many employees also did not receive their special employee discounts during the pandemic and had to pay full price because of shortages. Employees also didn’t know when certain items that were in high-demand were going to be restocked. An employee reported that they really don’t know when toilet paper, wipes or other items are coming in. Under normal circumstances, they would have knowledge of deliveries, but now because of the pandemic they cannot be sure. Another Costco employee also debunked a common misconception – that extra stock is being kept in the back – but that is not the case. To avoid disappointment, before trekking out to Costco, it is recommended to call the store in advance to inquire about the availability of high-demand products.
8. Masks are Mandatory
As of May 4th, it became mandatory to wear a mask while shopping at Costco in the US. The face mask policy is mandatory and goes into effect for all customers and employees, with exceptions granted only for those under 2 years of age or members who have a health condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. The Costco website indicates that the use of a face covering should not be seen as a substitute for social distancing. Social distancing rules are still in order while on Costco premises. Lack of a face mask can have you banned from entering the store. Canadian Costco shoppers don’t need to wear face masks to enter the warehouse as of yet, despite new rules coming into effect for U.S. stores. But wearing one is at your discretion in most places in Canada. Gloves are not mandatory, but you are asked to still disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer before entering the stores. Carts are wiped clean and active touching and smelling of food and putting it back is forbidden. Costco is still actively working towards limiting any physical contact between employee and member. They ask that each member have their membership card ready with the barcode facing up so cashiers can scan it without touching the card. Employees still prefer card payment as opposed to cash and you will have to pack your own bags.
7. Employees are Exhausted
From the corporate offices to the warehouse stores, the last few months have been excruciating for many Costco employees. To protect its consumers and employees, Costco ramped up its sanitization procedures in all its stores to make it safer for everyone. This included wiping down all of its carts and washing floors, counters, and shelves daily. One Costco employee was quoted as saying that it has been exhausting with the constant cleaning, wiping down, and restocking of shelves. They’ve never seen the shelves so bare & empty even though they constantly restock non-stop. They concluded by stating how demanding both mentally and physically the job has been over the last while. Costco has been trying to weather a storm of unprecedented consumer demand during the pandemic. Aside from all the physical work, it has been mentally trying and employees have been very fearful of getting sick. Some employees have tested positive for the virus and have had to stay off from work, leaving the remaining employees to pick up the pieces. These employees have been left to contend with numerous issues such as nasty customers, constant demands for items, and long hours. At least for now, the panic shopping seems to have decreased, but you will always get one or two customers that are still in a frenzy.
6. More than Usual Nasty Customers
It seems the pandemic has brought out the best and worst in people and Costco customers are not immune. Americans are tired of the lockdown and the months of confinement. They are eager to get back to a normal life. In some U.S. states, people have taken to protesting their right to return to business as usual. Since the announcement of states slowly re-opening, some people have been dead set on returning to their old habits. Since this is not safe or possible, people are acting out when being met with restrictions. Some are getting downright aggressive, says a Costco employee who has had their share of nasty customers to contend with. This employee describes how there are always the ones who rush about everywhere, pushing people out of the way to grab things, not respecting social distancing, or are upset that they have to pack their own bags. When it comes to conforming to rules, there is always one “King of Covidiots” as some employees like to call them. The ones who turn into big jerks when met with opposition. They are the ones not respecting anything or anyone, including the store clerks and other customers. They are the ones putting everyone else’s safety at peril. Costco has found a remedy for any customer who basically refuses to obey by the rules. They can ban access to the premises to any member who does not comply by wearing a mask, and respecting social distancing and staff demands. Employees are permitted to go as far as removing or taking away carts full of food from members and having them dismissed from the warehouse.
5. Back to Regular Hours
At the beginning of May, Costco warehouses also announced that they would be returning to regular hours of operation, after temporarily decreasing its hours to keep up with the demands of re-stocking and cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic. The return to regular hours also includes the gas pumps. In addition, the company updated its special operating hours for members over the age of 60. Some Costco warehouses will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday for members ages 60 and older and for members with disabilities. Only members who meet this criteria will be able to shop during these hours. Guests who accompany elderly parents will not be admitted in. The pharmacy will be open as usual during these hours. The Costco Food Court remains closed, except for pick up during regular hours. Costco is still limiting the amount of people who can enter the store at any given time. This means that line-ups outside may still be prevalent, especially during peak hours. Consult your local store hours before heading out as these hours differ from state to state.
4. Re-opening of Service Centers
In March, Costco not only reduced its store hours, it also had no choice but to cut out certain services that were deemed non essential. The departments affected and which remain closed to date are the Optical Center, and the Hearing Aid, Travel, Jewelry, and Floral departments. The Food Court also saw limitations as the seating area remained closed. This is a mainstay in most Costco warehouses. As of May, we are seeing the slow re-opening of certain departments: The Car and Tire Center is open for business, and the Optical department should be reopening at certain outlets, however, refills of contact lenses or purchases of sunglasses can be done online. Costco does recommend that shoppers purchase all items that are deemed non-essential through their website for delivery. Costco’s online store has also seen an increase in sales and may mark a new way of doing business in the future that is convenient and safe.
3. Lifted Membership Limit
As of March, many U.S. Costco warehouses implemented a two-person limit per membership to enter the store. The El Paso, Texas, and Puerto Rico warehouses were excluded from this policy. This was initiated to keep the number of people in a store to a minimum. Especially at the beginning when people were still in panic buying mode. Over the months, the numbers of customers started to ebb, as more people either shopped online, or stayed away altogether. People were also discouraged by long line ups. Employees also noticed more shoppers coming alone. As of May 15th, you are now allowed to come in with another family member and kids. Costco considers itself a family warehouse and promotes itself as such. They could not keep these restrictions forever without jeopardizing some of its member base. It is also difficult and costly for some families to find a babysitter just to do some shopping. Attendance limits may have worked short term, but will not long term as we all try to find a new normal.
2. Restrictions, Limits & Returns
After months into the pandemic, the same restrictions and limits still apply at all the Costco warehouses. In case you missed it, those are: no more free food samples or vendor stands and there is still no seating allowed at the food court. Take-out food is allowed with a limited menu. Costco is still limiting the amount of people who enter their store, but are now allowing families to enter together, especially if you have small children. Social distancing measures are still in place and you must stand 6 feet apart and follow the arrows and designated signs. There is still a no-return policy and limits to the amount of purchases on certain items such as toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, water, rice and Lysol. Some areas of the store are still closed off to shopping, like the electronics and jewelry sections, flower department and travel agency. Senior shopping hours are still in place and First Responders still have priority access to the stores and do not need to wait in line. Stores have returned to regular hours of operation and so have the gas pumps. A new restriction since the beginning of May are the limits imposed on the purchase of meat. This is due to the nationwide coronavirus outbreak at meat processing plants. Fresh meat is now temporarily limited to three items of beef, poultry and pork products per customer. Costco is allowing members to use their own reusable shopping bags as long as they pack the bags themselves, unless prohibited by local mandates. There may also be limited or no service at the Hearing Aid and Optical departments. Online shopping for closed departments is strongly recommended.
1. Reduction in Sales & Demand
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, due to massive panic buying, Costco saw a sharp increase in sales. But as time went by, with the stay-at home orders and social-distancing restrictions, Costco saw reduced shopper traffic in the months that followed. Comparable sales for the year at the store and for online purchases fell 0.5% in the last month. This is excluding the impact of gasoline sales and currency fluctuations. Gas sales fell 4.7%. Even with bulk purchases of cleaning supplies, aisles of frozen entrees and supersized packs of toilet paper, Costco is feeling squeezed by the pandemic. However, the company did see a nearly 88% rise in its e-commerce sales during the month of April. This will serve Costco well once normalcy returns and its members who have now become more accustomed to ordering online may stick to it. The demand for certain items has also diminished. Customers are no longer stocking up on massive amounts of brand name products. Instead, members are purchasing more generic products and increasingly experimenting with alternatives. They are cutting back on their usual favorite brand labels, either because of the cost or because they are in short supply everywhere. The question is, are in-store brands like Costco Kirkland Signature products seeing a temporary surge driven by consumers because they have already bought the things they need, or are they finally experiencing the direct impact of a coronavirus trend that could ultimately impact all sectors.