What will grocery stores look like in “the new normal?”

Hy-Vee, Metcalfe's discuss which changes made during the pandemic could become permanent

MADISON, Wis.– As Wisconsin slowly relaxes its ‘Safer at Home’ order, we’re starting to get a better grasp of what the so-called “new normal” might look like. Grocery stores have implemented some of the most noticeable changes over the past two months. Which of these could become permanent?

Hy-Vee and Metcalfe’s Market managers agree the biggest challenge moving forward will be maintaining in-store safety as well as the perception of it. For that reason, they expect stores to keep in place many policies.

Self-service touch screen checkout machines will become part of the new normal, as shoppers prefer no-contact payment methods.

One-way aisles to maintain social distancing and newer policies, like one cart per customer to reduce aisle traffic, are expected to become permanent, too.

Fewer trips and bigger bills are expected to become routine for shoppers moving forward. Whereas consumers used to take an average of 2.5 weekly trips to the grocery store before the COVID-19 outbreak, they now average one trip a week.

Expanded online ordering windows will likely continue. Hy-Vee says demand for its Aisles Online program has grown significantly over the past ten weeks, and it’s now making changes to expand permanently. Every day, managers say HyVee is opening more time slots for customers, for both curbside pickup and delivery.

Special hours for high-risk customers will continue, at least for now. Managers at Hy-Vee and Metcalfe’s say that even after ‘Safer at Home’ expires, they will keep in place the policy of reserving the first hour of the day for at-risk shoppers, including people 65+ and those with pre-existing conditions.

Limited interaction between customers and employees is the bottom line as grocery stores enter ‘the new normal.’ For this reason, expect stores to keep up plexiglass checkout barriers and sneezeguards.

At first, stores like Hy-Vee and Metcalfe’s billed these modifications as temporary, but managers say they quickly realized they just make sense and keep everyone safe.

“Before the pandemic, many customers never questioned their health safety while shopping,” said Tim Metcalfe, owner of the namesake chain. Moving forward, he’s working on ensuring customer safety and is prepared to continue to adapt.

“There has always been change in the grocery industry. It’s been slow and methodical— all centered on trying to leap frog the competition,” said Metcalfe. Now, Metcalfe says he’s “seen more changes in the industry in two months than in the past 50 years.”