By Barbara High

Tribune Staff Writer

KEYSER - With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting practically every aspect of the way Americans live their lives, one area that has changed greatly is shopping.

Groceries being an essential need, customers have had to venture out for much-needed items throughout the stay-at-home orders and after.

As a major provider of groceries and other necessities, Walmart has taken serious steps to ensure the safety of both customers and associates. As they continue to fight the pandemic on the storefront, they also look ahead at how this will continue to change and shape the retail industry

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon shared his thoughts on how COVID-19 has affected many aspects of retail, including how people view those in retail as front line workers and the supply chain.

"This crisis has shown there are other people on the front lines – tens of thousands of people we might not normally think of as heroes. They wear a very different uniform. They work at retailers and grocers of all sizes in towns and neighborhoods across the country. We’ve come to expect them to be there in a way we never have before, and they have risen to the occasion.

"Along the same lines, the world is seeing the importance of supply chains in a way it hasn’t before. Usually supply chains operate quietly behind the scenes. But this pandemic has showed the world that the supply chain is really a lifeline. And the people in the retail industry, foodservice and delivery services have been standing on the front lines of this crisis and extending that lifeline to all of us, every day.

"I think people have also come to see that the supply chain doesn’t just extend from a distribution center to the loading dock of a store. It goes all the way to the trunk of a customer’s car or their doorstep. The so-called ‘last mile’ of delivery has become front and center.

"This is just speeding up the significant change the retail industry was already undergoing. Before this crisis, we were already seeing robust adoption of online pickup and delivery in our business. As this crisis created the need for social distancing and required people to stay at home, customers embraced the pickup and delivery experience even more.

"My feeling is that once this crisis is more under control, people will have seen the benefits of that service and will likely continue to use it. It will become part of the ‘new normal.’" he said.

McMillon also said one of the biggest lessons this pandemic has taught was the need for cooperation and partnership – the need for community. As one Walmart associate put it, "Though we’re working further apart, we’ve never felt closer."

"As businesses, as communities, as families and friends, we need to go forward remembering that we’re all connected in one way or another," McMillon said. "If there’s anything good that can come from this moment, it would be the chance we have to deepen our connections with each other."

According to senior manager Casey Staheli, the company has been very proactive in their response to COVID-19.

"We enacted cleaning and sanitizing protocols with guidance from the CDC and Walmart’s chief medical officer early on and we will continue taking any and all measures necessary to ensure the well-being of our associates and customers," Staheli said. Those include delivering updated procedures to associates through videos and photos, as well as schedules for cleaning to help provide clear guidance.

"We have a voice-activated app called Ask Sam that associates can use to ask for cleaning guides for any area of the store, and our stores have adjusted operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to help associates restock shelves while continuing to clean and sanitize the building.

"We’ve also posted signs at the entrance reminding customers of the importance of wearing masks. "Maintaining customer and associate safety remains our top priority," Staheli said.

" We encourage customers to be especially mindful of one another during this unprecedented time and adhere to recommendations that we all use face coverings while in public spaces.

"Staying safe and healthy is more important than ever for our associates, our customers and for us. Installing these barriers is another way Walmart is helping bring peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to keep our people and our stores safe," says a Walmart spokesperson.

Cart cleaning is another part of of sanitizing that Walmart is diligently practicing. They found a new solution to help associates clean carts quicker and more thoroughly, making them ready when customers need them.

Walmart is also moving forward with the launch of their new "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" program.

Some of this things that are offered at the Local Keyser Walmart is their delivery program and Walmart Pay, which allows shoppers to download the app and use their phones to pay and check out without having to touch anything.

Staheli says, "As we look towards the future,I can tell you that the safety of our associates and customers is at the forefront as we navigate this fluid situation. We proactively rolled out many safety measures and we’re not putting a timetable on making modifications but will be thoughtful and deliberate as we monitor changes in cities and states and adapt accordingly."