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Costco employees describe a frantic workplace as panic shoppers overrun stores

Business Insider logo Business Insider 3/26/2020 Shoshy Ciment
a group of people standing next to a sign:   Foursquare analyzed foot traffic patterns at different types  of retail and entertainment spaces across the US between February  19 and March 13.    The data showed that visits to movie theaters and restaurants  have been on the decline across the country, while grocery stores  and warehouse chains have seen big spikes in foot traffic amid  the coronavirus outbreak.    Here's which industries have fared best and worst so far from  the pandemic, according to the data.        Visit   Business Insider's homepage for more stories.     It has been a brutal few weeks for businesses across the retail  and entertainment industries in the US.   Many of these companies are coping with conflicting situations.  Some are facing massive spikes in demand as consumers flock to  their stores to stock up on goods, while others, such as apparel  retailers or movie theaters, are dealing with declining foot  traffic and closing locations amid the coronavirus outbreak.    Foursquare analyzed foot traffic patterns at various types of  retail and entertainment spaces across the US between February 19  and March 13.   Find out which industries have been hardest hit below: © AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus
  • Foursquare analyzed foot traffic patterns at different types of retail and entertainment spaces across the US between February 19 and March 13.
  • The data showed that visits to movie theaters and restaurants have been on the decline across the country, while grocery stores and warehouse chains have seen big spikes in foot traffic amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Here's which industries have fared best and worst so far from the pandemic, according to the data.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

It has been a brutal few weeks for businesses across the retail and entertainment industries in the US.

Many of these companies are coping with conflicting situations. Some are facing massive spikes in demand as consumers flock to their stores to stock up on goods, while others, such as apparel retailers or movie theaters, are dealing with declining foot traffic and closing locations amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Foursquare analyzed foot traffic patterns at various types of retail and entertainment spaces across the US between February 19 and March 13.

Find out which industries have been hardest hit below:

From a business perspective, the last month has been extraordinary for Costco. Consumer demand at the members-only warehouse store was high in late February, thanks to panic-buyers flocking to the stores in droves.

For the employees in the company's stores and corporate offices across the US, the story is less glamourous. In the last few weeks, workers at various levels of Costco have reached out to Business Insider with their accounts as the coronavirus rips across the country.

"It's just insane," an employee in an East Coast store who has worked for Costco for 13 years told Business Insider, describing what it's like to work at an "essential" business in a time of crisis.

This worker, along with six other employees in Costco store in Texas, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and on the East Coast, and three employees at the company's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington, spoke to Business Insider on the condition of full or partial anonymity in order to speak frankly without fear of reprisal. In all of these cases, their identities were verified and made known to Business Insider.

Costco declined to comment for this story.

'It's been exhausting'

As people around the world make an effort to stay indoors, Costco employees, deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security, are still expected to show up to work.

"It's been exhausting," an employee in a Utah store said. "I've never seen our shelves, our stocks, so bare before."

Some employees acknowledged that Costco has been doing its best to control the chaos. In addition to limiting the number of people allowed inside its stores at a time, placing purchase restrictions and barring returns on in-demand items, the store is increasing sanitizing efforts and, in some cases, attempting to enforce six-foot spaces between each person in stores.

Related video: Costco bans returns on high-demand items (provided by My Recipes)

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An employee in an East Coast store said his location has even stopped allowing cake orders in an effort to limit the use of the pen with which orders are placed.

Still, warehouse employees described a scenario in which the company they have mostly enjoyed working for has led them to feel overworked and generally underprotected.

An employee in an Illinois store said that when it comes to limiting the number of people in the warehouse, that number limit does not typically include the employees who are working there.

"Many times there are big lines outside the store or inside by the register, which is exactly what should be avoided so the virus does not spread," the Illinois employee said.

a group of people standing in a parking lot © Duane Tanouye / Reuters

Costco has not offered additional sick leave for employees

Costco announced on Monday that it would pay its employees an extra $2 an hour for their work during the coronavirus outbreak.

But while other companies like Target and Walmart have announced updated paid-leave policies for workers during the outbreak, Costco has not announced any additional paid time off for its employees. However, the company is reportedly waiving its policies towards additional absences at this time.

"Our leaders in the company have dropped the ball," an employee in an East Coast store said. "We are thanked for maintaining the standards of Costco but are not assured that we will be compensated fairly if we contract the virus."

Other employees expressed a similar frustration with the company's sick leave and time-off policy.

"I'm told I can have a 2 weeks no pay off or burn through my sick and [paid time off]," a 52-year-old hearing aid specialist, who works in a Washington warehouse in Costco and says she has a heart condition, said. "Great vacation."

Costco CFO Richard Galanti told Business Insider that Costco is actively trying to figure out the best ways to take care of its employees and that the $2-an-hour pay bump was something the company had been trying to figure out for a bit.

At least three employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Costco's corporate offices in Washington

At Costco's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington, workers are fielding issues of their own.

The company's headquarters are still not fully closed, even though a Costco Travel employee on the campus died on Sunday, March 15, after testing positive for the virus. Two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 were discovered on the company's campus on March 19.

"Everyone's really anxious," a Costco Travel employee close to the worker who died told Business Insider previously. This employee said that the company is gradually transitioning to a work-from-home setup.

Galanti told Business Insider on Monday that of the 8,000 employees on Costco's corporate campus, 80% were working from home. He said that figure should go up to 90% by the end of this week.

Another employee in Costco's corporate offices said that the company has yet to close its buffet-style delis for employees on campus because they are considered an essential service.

"We were literally in full panic mode until they gave us the laptops [to work from home]," the Costco Travel employee said, describing how employees went from hushed, confused conversations in the office hallways to a mad sprint to get out of the building after the announcement of the first employee's death on March 16.

Another Costco Travel employee told Business Insider that after the first case of coronavirus on campus was discovered, people were given laptops to work from home on a priority basis, depending on their job.

This employee was critical of this transition to work from home, saying it has been slow and mishandled.

"They had the ability to have people work from home for a while," this employee said, expressing frustration at the entire situation, which she described as chaotic and slow.

Like Costco's store workers, these corporate employees said they feel overlooked by the company many of them once considered family.

"It makes us feel like we're really, like nothing," this Costco Travel employee said. "It makes me so sad."

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