The coronavirus pandemic has forced retailers to introduce a variety of measures to keep staff and customers safe. From one-way systems to hand sanitiser provision and checkout screens, the layout of every supermarket in the UK has been reshaped to allow the public to get their essentials with minimal risk of infection.

So who’s doing it best? To find out, we worked with Shepper to do a spot check on 500 supermarkets including Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl stores. 

Supermarkets are doing a pretty good job at keeping customers safe in stores during the pandemic, Shepper’s data suggests. The prevalence of some crucial social distancing measures is high, with floor markings for queuing at tills and checkout screens in place across an average of 97% and 99% respectively, of all the stores audited by Shepper. 

There was also a high prevalence of visible signage outside of stores (87%) and clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene upon arrival to stores (87%).

However, the presence of other Covid-19 measures were more variable across the different stores visited, the survey found. Hand sanitiser was available for customers to use upon entry across an average of 66% of stores, for example, while one-way flowing systems were evident in 51% of stores on average.

There was also a distinct lack of specific measures for the clinically vulnerable, which were in place in just 9% of stores audited by Shepper. That’s perhaps to be expected, though, with the government currently advising that clinically vulnerable people stay indoors as much as possible and avoid visiting shops.

 

When it comes to the Covid-19 safety measures audited by Shepper, Asda led the pack with an average score of 82%.

The supermarket scored almost 100% for applying one-ways systems and using checkout screens, and it got full marks for social distancing floor markings at the tills – the only big four retailer to do so. Asda also came top for providing hand sanitiser for customers to use upon entry with 78%, the highest of any other retailer surveyed.

Our Grocer 33 has painted a mixed picture when it comes to how safe shoppers have felt when visiting Asda stores during lockdown. Despite clear one-way guidance in place across Asda stores, there were reports of customers ignoring the signs in some of the stores visited by our shoppers. While staff in some Asda stores did their best to encourage shoppers to stick to the rules, our shoppers felt those in other stores “should have policed shoppers more carefully to enforce the two-metre rule”.

That said, some Asda stores scored highly in our Grocer 33. That includes Cheltenham, where our shopper said friendly staff worked hard to replenish shelves, maintain social distancing guidelines and help shoppers. “It felt like a safe shopping experience, unlike some other stores I have recently been in,” our shopper added.

Asda in Hulme, meanwhile, took a Grocer 33 win, with our shopper noting that signage about social distancing and trolley cleaning instructions, as well as occasional announcements, were also helpful.

What Asda says it’s doing

  • Staff on the doors limiting the number of people entering stores at any one time
  • Clear signage and directional floor markings to help customers maintain a two-metre distance
  • Regular in-store announcements on Asda radio reminding customers to follow social distancing rules
  • Encouraging cashless payment – has rolled out Scan & Go mobile at 581 of stores
  • Every other self-checkout till closed
  • Stores cleaned thoroughly and regularly
  • Masks provided to colleagues who want them
  • Providing hand sanitiser
  • Perspex screens at checkouts.
 

Tesco had the second-highest average score according to Shepper’s audit, at 80%. It scored over 90% for half of the criteria and came top for its one-way flow systems (alongside Asda) and for guidance on social distancing and hygiene (alongside Aldi).

Tesco also had a relatively high score for measures in place for the clinically vulnerable (14%) compared to its rivals, and 99% of its stores visited by Shepper had checkout screens in place.

That tallies with the performance of Tesco in our revamped Grocer 33, where its stores have consistently performed strongly since lockdown was imposed. At Tesco Chepstow, our shopper complimented staff on their social distancing awareness. They were also impressed with the provision of safety measures, such as hand sanitiser in the foyer, clear signage and a one-way system.

Tesco Aldershot won similarly high praise for its safety standards, picking up extra points thanks to its system for anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitisers, as well as its logical layout and one-way system.

What Tesco says it’s doing

  • Floor markings in car parks to help customers maintain safe distances when queuing
  • Where necessary, will limit flow of people coming into stores
  • Hand sanitisers provided for staff and customers, as well as extra cleaning products to wipe down trolleys and baskets
  • Directional floor markings and new signage in some stores
  • Protective screens at checkouts
  • Separate entrances and exits where possible
  • Providing masks and gloves for staff that want them
  • Strict hygiene in stores, with regular and thorough cleans every day
  • Encouraging customers to pay at checkout by card.

Tesco’s response to the results:

“The safety of our colleagues and customers is our top priority. We have implemented a range of social distancing measures in our stores, to protect everyone and to ensure that it is possible to maintain a safe distance.

“Our social distancing measures were designed with the needs of all customers and colleagues in mind, but we would urge anyone who needs a little extra support while shopping with us to ask our colleagues, who are always happy to help.

“We have also more than doubled the number of online delivery slots to help our most vulnerable customers.”

 

 

Morrisons’ application of coronavirus safety measures gave it an average score of 69% in Shepper’s audit. 

Of all the retailers, Morrisons got the lowest score for its use of visible signage outside of stores (76%) and had the least consistent use of one-way flow systems among the big four (33%).

It also had a lower than average score for guidance on social distancing and hygiene when customers arrive at the store - although most of its stores visited by Shepper (81%) still had that in place. Like Lidl and Aldi, Morrisons did score 100% for its installation of checkout screens.

Morrisons stores have delivered a mixed performance in our revamped Grocer 33, with some stores losing points for poorly implemented safety measures and others praised by shoppers for being a safe shopping environment.

Our shopper at Morrisons in Banbury was uncomfortable over a lack of respect for social distancing in store, with not enough markers, staff not marshalling customers and employees getting too close to shoppers, they claimed.

However, our shopper in Liverpool was impressed with the management of social distancing measures. “Staff seemed to be taking it seriously and managing effectively the necessity for social distancing,” our shopper said.

What Morrisons says it’s doing

  • Asking customers at the checkout to pay, if possible, by card or smartphone to reduce cash handling
  • Issuing hand sanitiser to checkouts at all stores and significantly increasing cleaning
  • Providing disposable gloves and sanitiser to staff
  • Installed transparent checkout screens
  • Staggered entry system into all stores, with marshals at the front of store
  • One-way systems with floor stickers and signage
  • Tannoy announcements reminding shoppers of social distancing rules.
 

Sainsbury’s achieved an average score of 61% in Shepper’s audit.  

Like most of the other retailers, Sainsbury’s performed strongly with checkout screens (95%), floor markings (92%) and outdoor signage (93%) but it dropped points when it came to the provision of hand sanitiser and disinfectants.

Only one quarter of the Sainsbury’s stores surveyed provided hand sanitiser for customers upon entry (25%) and under half implemented disinfectant measures for trolleys and baskets (49%), according to the Shepper data.

Several Sainsbury’s stores in our Grocer 33 also lost points for the lack of these measures. Ourshopper at Sainsbury’s in Tadley, for example, couldn’t find a cleaning station to wipe her trolley down despite signs advertising them, while Sainsbury’s in Hamilton lost points for a lack of hand sanitiser and wipes available in store for customer use.

However, some Sainsbury’s stores have received positive feedback on shopper safety through our revamped Grocer 33. Our shopper at Sainsbury’s in Solihull felt it was “managing the situation very well”, while staff at Sainsbury’s in Strathaven and Liverpool were praised for practising good social distancing.

What Sainsbury’s says it’s doing

  • Limiting number of people in stores at any one time
  • Queuing systems in place outside stores
  • Clear markings on shop floors to show safe distance
  • Reduced number of checkouts
  • Safety screens installed at most manned checkouts
  • Regularly sanitising customer areas of stores
  • Encouraging customers to pay by card.

Sainsbury’s response to the results:

“Our priority throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been to keep everyone safe, help to feed the nation and support our communities and most vulnerable members of society. We have adhered to strict social distancing measures as set out by the government and across our business our colleagues have worked tirelessly to make our stores and supply operations safe.

“This report fails to recognise that some of these measures will not always be visible to customers throughout the day in our stores. For example, from the outset we were the first to prioritise vulnerable customers for home delivery and offer priority shopping slots in store. We can reassure customers our trolleys and baskets are disinfected after every use and customers will see hand sanitiser stations in our supermarkets very soon.”

 

Aldi had an average score of 73% in Shepper’s audit.

The discounter scored over 90% in half of the eight criteria spot checked including 94% for both guidance on social distancing and hygiene and full marks on providing floor markings for queuing at the tills and for checkout screens – the only retailer to achieve this.

What Aldi says it’s doing

  • Introduced trolley and basket cleaning stations across all stores
  • Placed two-metre markers on floors of checkouts 
  • Installed Perspex screens at checkouts and providing PPE for staff
  • Encouraging customers to pay by card or contactless and increasing the contactless limit
  • Limiting entry at busy times, including through use of an automated traffic light system and entry marshals at busy times. 
  • Messaging to to remind customers about social distancing guidelines 
  • Priority entry for key workers at all times
 

Lidl, meanwhile, achieved an average score of 65% on Shepper’s audit.

A lack of one-way systems in Lidl stores (6%), the lowest of the retailers surveyed, dragged its average score down considerably.

However, the retailer clawed back points for its application of Perspex checkout screens which began rolling out at the end of March. The discounter and Morrisons were the only retailers to get full marks on this check, meaning every Lidl store visited had the screens in place.

What Lidl says it’s doing

  • Crowd control systems in place to help manage social distancing, including staff on store entrances during busy times of day
  • Messaging around stores reminding everyone of importance of keeping two-metres apart
  • Traffic light system to help customers choose the quietest time to shop
  • Increased contactless payment limit
  • Installed checkout protection screens
  • Providing protective visors to staff
  • Extra support – including priority entry – for customers who need it.

Lidl’s response to the results: 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been committed to introducing and maintaining measures for the benefit of our customers and colleagues. We continue to review all measures that we have in place to ensure that we can continue providing a safe and positive shopping environment in our stores.”

 

Methodology

The data used in this article was collected by the Shepper network across 500 stores in the UK between 26 May 2020 - 29 May 2020. The network were asked if they saw the safety measures in place during a store visit and answered ’Yes’ or ’No’. The answers were collected and each supermarket was given an average score based on the results.

 

When this article was first published on 17/06/20, due to incorrect shopper reports, it noted that Aldi had a 95% score for checkout screens when it should have been 100%. The reports in question were removed from the data and the article was updated 29/06/20 to reflect this change.