Walmart Inc., the biggest U.S. retailer, will cut its store operating hours starting Sunday to give its workers time to restock shelves as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies.
The pandemic is prompting Americans to buy more groceries and other daily necessities including cleaning products, often emptying shelves in anticipation of an extended period of so-called social distancing or self-isolation. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases globally has risen to almost 152,000, with deaths nearing 5,700.
“I don’t think any of us have been through an experience like this,” Dacona Smith, Walmart’s U.S. executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement, adding that the change is to ensure “associates are able to stock the products” that are in demand.
Stores and neighborhood markets — some operating as long as 24 hours a day — will open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., while those with shorter hours will retain their existing schedules, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said.
Toilet rolls and paper towels at its location in Torrance, California, were out-of-stock on Wednesday afternoon. The store was also out of hand sanitizers.
Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, one of the CEOs who spoke at President Donald Trump’s press conference on Friday, said it was difficult to keep hand sanitizers in stock. Trump is scheduled to hold a call with grocery executives on Sunday.
The company’s supply chain and trucking fleet will continue to move products and deliver to stores on regular schedules, Smith said. Employees will also work the hours and shifts they are scheduled.
Like Walmart, a growing number of retailers plan changes to their operations:
- Apple will shut all stores outside Greater China for two weeks
- T-Mobile will close indoor mall stores starting Monday
- Lululemon has canceled yoga classes and is limiting store hours at its North American locations to 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. beginning Monday
- Patagonia closed its stores and said there will be delays on orders and customer-service requests over the next two weeks
- Reformation will close temporarily
- Urban Outfitters, which also owns brands such as Anthropologie, closed all of its stores worldwide until March 28
- Neighborhood Goods, with locations in New York and Texas, closed until March 27
“Frankly it’s good that they do it,” Trump said at a separate press conference Saturday, responding to a question about store closures by Apple and other retailers. “We want to keep people away for a little while.”
McMillon also told its U.S. corporate staff to work remotely for the next three weeks, joining other companies to implement such measures to shield workers from the spreading coronavirus. The retailer instituted an emergency leave policy to help allay employee concerns after a store associate tested positive for the virus.
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