What to expect if you shop at Costco, Target, or other chains during the coronavirus


As essential businesses, grocery stores are remaining open through all the shelter-in-place guidelines. However, the way they are operating now is different from before the coronavirus pandemic.

Supermarkets have made changes to how much you can buy, when you can shop, and how the stores themselves operate in order to be as safe and sanitary as possible for customers and workers.

If you're planning a trip to a store like Costco, Walmart, or Target, here are five things to expect. 

Purchase limits 

Many major retailers are putting limits on essential purchases, although the exact products they are limiting and how many you can buy might depend on the location. 

For the most part, purchase limits have been applied to high-demand items: toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. Some stores are also putting purchase limits on certain food and baby products, too.

For example, Costco has put a purchase limit on toilet paper and bottled water. Walmart has purchase limits on items like cleaning supplies along with baby wipes, food, and formula, and Target placed limits on items such as eggs and milk.

This measure is meant to keep shoppers from hoarding but it means you might have to make multiple trips to a store if you can't buy more than one or two of something your household uses frequently.

"This is a big issue for a lot of shoppers," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "I find it very frustrating that I have to return to the store for baby wipes, something I use multiple times throughout the day. Large packages that contain multiple baby wipe containers are sold out and I'm limited to one baby wipe package per trip that means I'm going back to the store every couple of days."

Contactless curbside pickup

Contactless pickup, where consumers can buy items online and then pick up their purchases either in the store or at the curb, has become a common service major grocery chains offer. "In the current climate, the chief benefit is that it provides an avenue for shopping that lowers contamination risk," Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at Offers.com, told Grow. 

Walmart is among the grocery stores offering curbside pickup, along with Aldi and Target. Publix offers curbside pickup at selection locations.

What items you can get for curbside pickup varies by store. For example, Target does not include perishable foods, flowers, or alcohol in pickup options right now. 

Many stores that sell nonessentials are also ramping up contactless shopping services. For example, Nordstrom is offering curbside pickup, along with DSW. "Best Buy isn't allowing anyone into their stores at all, offering only curbside orders and pickups," Woroch says. 

Reduced hours

Although you might think it smart to get to the grocery stores as soon as doors open for your best shot at picking up items that quickly go out of stock, or after the work day, confirm that you will actually be allowed into the store early in the morning or later in the evening.

Many supermarkets and big-box stores have limited their hours of operation. For example, Walmart is no longer open 24 hours a day; now, stores operate from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Costco closes at 6:30 p.m. and Target closes at 9 p.m.

Best Buy isn't allowing anyone into their stores at all, offering only curbside orders and pickups.
Andrea Woroch
Consumer Savings Expert

Many stores are also reserving the earliest hours of operation for seniors and other people considered at-risk.

At Walmart, stores will "host an hour-long senior shopping event," every Tuesday an hour before the store opens, according to Walmart's press releaseAt Target, the first hour after opening on Tuesdays and Wednesdays  is reserved for seniors and those with underlying health concerns. And at Costco, the hour from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays will be reserved for those 60 and older. 

Selected Safeway locations are also offering senior hours but those vary store-to-store. For example, one location in Colorado Springs, Colorado, offers special hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Another location in Dover, Delaware, reserves the period from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for seniors, expecting mothers, and immunocompromised customers. 

More safety precautions

Some stores are requiring employees to wear masks and asking that shoppers do the same. The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing a cloth face covering in places where it's harder to maintain the required distance from other people, like the grocery store or pharmacy.

Stores are working to ensure people stay six feet apart by, for example, marking where to stand in the checkout line with tape on the floor. "Some grocery stores have enacted one-way lanes down aisles to prevent people from passing each other," Woroch says. 

At Costco, you're able to order to-go items from the food court but there is no seating available. The store no longer offers free samples. 

Many stores have also installed some sort of Plexiglas or transparent shield at the register to separate customers from the cashier. 

Lines outside the store

To help shoppers practice social distancing, some stores are only letting in a certain number of people. For example, Walmart is only letting in 20% of the store's capacity at a time, or five customers per every 1,000 square feet of space. Costco will only allow two people per membership card to enter a warehouse. 

This means that there might be a wait to even enter the store. "Give yourself plenty of time as you may run into long lines," Woroch says.

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