By Tonya Garcia, MarketWatch
The retail giant is making shifts to its supply chain to meet increased demand
A Walmart Inc. associate in Kentucky has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the company said Wednesday while announcing potential store-hour restrictions at 24-hour locations even though traffic is rising.
Walmart (WMT) said its stores are cleaned daily, including sanitizing high-touch areas and assigning one associate who is responsible for key areas throughout the day.
The company is also looking into ways to more easily sanitize shopping carts and exploring the possibility of shutting its 24-hour locations to make time for additional cleaning.
See:Coronavirus caseload passes 1,000 in U.S. as West Coast cities ban large gatherings ()
The retail giant is also considering store-hour restrictions at 24-hour locations as an additional precaution, even as traffic rises.
Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) has also announced additional cleaning measures to combat the virus, with some areas being cleaned as much as every eight minutes ( ).
A Walmart associate at a store in Cynthiana, Ky. has tested positive for coronavirus. Employees who test positive will receive two weeks pay, according to outbreak-related policies that have been launched.
If a staff member needs additional time, Walmart will offer replacement pay for up to 26 weeks for both full-time and part-time staff. And an independent group, Walmart Associates in Critical Need Trust, has waived its eligibility requirements in order to accept grant applications.
The trust is a nonprofit that provides assistance for basic needs of Walmart workers who have experienced financial difficulty. Since it was launched in 2001, the group says it has given more than 145,000 grants totaling $135 million. Individual grants total up to $1,500.
The retailer is offering up to two weeks pay to staff who work at stores, offices or distribution centers that may be part of a mandated quarantine.
Associates who are not feeling well are encouraged to stay home. Walmart is waiving its attendance policy for associates through the end of April.
And:Costco, BJ's and Kroger sales boosted by demand for coronavirus-related items ()
"Walmart should pay for Covid-19 testing for every associate who came into contact with the employee who contracted coronavirus in Kentucky," said Mendy Hughes, a 10-year veteran Walmart worker and a leader of United for Respect, in a statement. United for Respect is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for retail workers.
The group is looking for assurance that there won't be retaliation for calling in sick.
"Walmart needs to prioritize the wellness of its workforce all year long, not just when coronavirus is sweeping the country," said Melissa Love, another Walmart worker and United for Respect leader, in a statement. "We need a stronger general sick time policy that allows employees to take care of themselves and their families without fear of losing a bonus, or worse, their job."
Walmart says it has seen a spike in demand for cleaning supplies, paper products and other items and has taken measures to direct items to stores and areas "where they are needed most." Managers have been given license to make inventory decisions, such as limiting the quantity of an item a customer can buy, in an effort to meet demand.
Walmart also says it has taken steps to prevent price gouging online, something that has reportedly been an issue (Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) There is a page on Walmart's help center ( customers can report pricing that violates its seller policy.) for
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Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) has also been grappling with demand pressures that, in the case of some items, has turned into a frenzy ( ).
When asked how the company is dealing with the issue, a spokesperson told MarketWatch that it's not staffed to respond to media questions about coronavirus-related emergency purchasing.
"As always, our focus is to have merchandise available for our members at low warehouse prices," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Executives at BJ's Wholesale Club Holdings Inc. (BJ) , which reported its earnings last Thursday ( ), said on the call that it's working to manage inventory of cleaning supplies and other items. The company expects some shipping delays on "minor portions of summer seasonal items," said Lee Delaney, chief executive of BJ's, according to a FactSet transcript.
Kroger Co. (KR) , which also reported earnings last Thursday, said that it has activated a pandemic preparedness plan that will take into account the needs of its customers, workers and supply chain.
"We generally believe that we have limited supply chain exposure in China as the majority of the products we source is domestic," said W. Rodney McMullen, chief executive of Kroger, on the call, according to a FactSet transcript.
Outside of grocery, beauty retailer Sephora has suspended all free and paid in-store services, including makeovers and skincare applications, and has added weekly deep cleanings and is cleaning displays multiple times per day.
Ulta Beauty Inc. (ULTA) is asking customers to request associate assistance if they want to test anything in its stores, and encouraging use of the virtual try-on option, Glamlab. They also warn in an email sent to customers that some services could be temporarily suspended in certain areas.
Walmart stock has gained 5.1% over the last year while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen nearly 17.5% for the period.
-Tonya Garcia; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 14, 2020 10:51 ET (14:51 GMT)
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