The challenge will, however, be from Tuesday, when local transport will not ply. While many, who shop at these stores, have their personal vehicles, store managers are worried about employees’ commute and whether enough of them would be able to make it to the stores for them to function. Four out of five employees live in the suburbs and usually commute by local trains.
On Monday morning, even before the stores could open, a large number of buyers could be seen outside the entrances, all looking to buy enough provisions for the lockdown period. Having witnessed near riotlike situation when superstores in China had opened during lockdown there, the top brass at most hypermarkets had decided to restrict customer entry.
The companies, however, claimed the entry restriction was to ensure adherence to social distancing norms. “We admitted 30 shoppers into our store at a time and asked the rest to wait in a queue outside. We also requested those entering the store to finish their shopping in 15-20 minutes so that the next batch can come in and we can service as many people as we can,” said Manish Agarwal, regional head of Future Group that operates Big Bazaar.
Subtly hinting at responsible shopping practice, At Spencer’s listed out the essentials and suggested quantities that a person could buy. Spencer’s regional head Kaushik Ganguly said only food and grocery items were sold at the store and other sections, like that for apparel, were shut. In the fresh and staples category, store assistants wearing gloves asked customers to list out what they wanted and handed the item over. “Since touch is the issue, we don’t want people touching an item and then, choosing another. The store assistants asked customers to point out the vegetables or fruit they wanted and they themselves packed them,” a store manager said.
Both Agarwal and Ganguly said the supply chain was in place to replenish the stores before they opened on Tuesday morning. But with inter-state truck movement being severely affected, supplies of commodities that arrive from other parts of the country could pose a problem in the days ahead.
The immediate challenge is, however, to get the store staff to report to duty during the lockdown. With all public transport shut from 5pm on Monday, store managers admitted they were worried about how to operate the stores unless the critical minimum reported for duty. “We have set up a core team and listed those who live within a walkable distance of 45 minutes. We are banking on them to operate the stores,” said Ganguly.
(With inputs from Udit Prasanna Mukherjee)
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