Six grocery and warehouse design trends because of COVID-19

COVID-19 is forcing grocery and warehouse companies to change their design to potentially stem the flow of the virus while keeping operations moving.

By Henderson Engineers June 4, 2020

According to The New York Times, 42 states across the nation, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted a shelter-in-place directive, in one way or another urging citizens to stay home to help slow the spread of COVID-19. There’s not one industry that hasn’t in some way been impacted by this “new normal,” but in a time when many are fighting to stay afloat, there has been an unprecedented demand placed on our grocery partners.

This demand, stemming mostly from the simple fact that the majority of meals are being eaten at home, is driving grocers and retailers to expand quickly. As grocery and warehouse design consultants, we’ve been actively working with some of the top industry names to help them adapt their business models to meet their customers’ needs. And throughout our conversations, we’ve seen several common strategic design initiatives (and challenges) relating to the need for short term solutions while also preparing for a potential a paradigm shift that may remain long past this pandemic. Six of the top trends in grocery and warehouse design as a result of COVID-19 are:

  1. Additional grocery distribution warehouse infrastructure. The increased demand for online orders and delivery requires an equivalent increase in shelving and warehouse capacity. This includes new distribution and surge expansion of existing facilities.
  2. Increased storage for additional stock. As consumers increase their shopping quantities to respond to the shelter in place orders, stores are finding the need for more storage of dry and refrigerated goods.
  3. Creating/maintaining a positive customer experience. While online ordering and pick-up isn’t necessarily a new service for many of our clients, for many customers this is the first time they are buying their groceries this way. And as such, retailers want to make their shopping experience pleasant and seamless, even as the demand for these services has outpaced the ability to fill the orders. Retailers know this may be the key to retaining their online business long after this pandemic has passed.
  4. Modifications for employee safety. Changes to the traditional grocery shopping experience have required grocers to increase the number of working employees; which brings with it another challenge of employee safety. Spaces like breakrooms are being modified to accommodate social distancing, and in many stores plexiglass has been installed at checkout where maintaining a six-foot distance is not doable.
  5. Implementing infection control policies. Whether they’re closing early to provide additional time for rigorous cleaning procedures, unloading deliveries, and stocking shelves, or using floor signage to remind shoppers to observe social distancing or use one way aisles, big name are all taking measures to limit the potential spread of infection in their stores. Others have taken it even further and is limiting the number of shoppers allowed in the store at a time.
  6. Future planning for a post-pandemic consumer base. Store layouts for new builds, renovations, and expansions are seeing alterations to accommodate social distancing in egress/ingress and larger aisles. But perhaps most importantly, they are designing for flexibility, creating spaces that can ramp up/down delivery, and/or storage space should it be needed.

It has become evident, if it wasn’t before, that grocery stores and warehouses are a key part of the American infrastructure, and we’ve seen them step up to serve our country during this pandemic. However, the impact of this time will continue to be felt, by consumers and grocers alike, long after stay at home orders are lifted. Identifying which of these measures should become lasting design changes will be key. To do our part to maintain public health and safety now and when the COVID-19 curve flattens, we’re working with our clients to develop designs that take into consideration what we know for certain yet are flexible enough to adapt to all the future unknowns.

This article originally appeared on Henderson Engineers’ websiteHenderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner.