By standing apart we can beat the virus, together.  That is the message from Australia.  Stay home, and when you leave to get your essentials, make sure you are standing at least 1.5m away from other people.  This is a clear instruction, and an important one, but practical implications in a retail setting can be more murky.  ACAPMA explores the considerations retail businesses must make when setting their occupancy limits to meet guidelines, but also allow customer movement through complex store layouts.  Practical worked examples and posters for customers included.

Maximum Occupancy

To halt the spread of COVID-19 there is a requirement for businesses to ensure that they are not allowing or encouraging more than 1 person in a 4sqm space on their premises. 

Calculating this figure is a simple area calculation (length x width) based on the customer area.

In a c-store environment this would mean you would need to measure the customer area (so the shop floor less the counter, back of house etc) if it is say 5m x 11m then the area is 55, then the max number of persons in the store at one time is 13 (rounded down to the nearest whole person).

Need for Caution

The simple example caution and need for clarity comes from the reality that in the average c-store having the max number of people based on the area calculation (13) would likley result in failing the social distancing requirements.

In the example above the layout of the store may be such that while there is the area for 13 people, there is only really space for 3 people to effectively social distance on the floor, when stock isles, gondola ends, promotional stacks and ATMs are taken into account.

“It gets more complicated if you consider that, even after you take out the area occupied by shelving and other stock, having a customer on every point 1.5m from each other on the floor, would limit the customers capacity to move through the store, select items and get into line” explained ACAPMAs Executive Manager for Employment and Training, Elisha Radwanowski.

“Retail sites will need to take a practical eye to their shop layout, and work out how many people can safely, and practically, shop in the store at any one time.  The 4sqm requirement show the maximum safe occupancy, but it does not take the practical nature of shoppers, moving through the store and then lining up into account” continued Elisha.

“Depending on the site layout the 4sqm requirement may say that the site can have 15 people safely, but the  layout practically will only allow 3 people queuing (1 at the counter and 2 in a line 1.5m from each other) and 1 or 2 people moving through the shop floor” said Elisha.

“It is easy to fall to the simple calculation, but to do so would fail to recognise the real way that people move through and line up in our c-stores.  What is necessary is a slightly more complicated calculation, where the retailer reviews the dimensions of their store, particularly in the queuing area, and sets a Practical Safe Shopping Person Limit based on a maximum queue length and remaining shop size that will allow people to stay at least 1.5m away from each other.  This is more complicated, but not impossible” explained Elisha.

Setting Practical Safe Shopping Person Limit instore

1. Work out the 4sqm Maximum Occupancy

  • Take the customer accessible shop floor length in metres multiplied by the customer accessible shop floor width in metres  (length x width) to give you the Total Customer Area.
  • Divide the Total Customer Area by 4 to give you the number of 4sqm blocks in the customer accessible shop floor – this number is the Maximum Occupancy.

2. Build and mark out a Safe Queue

  • Start with the counter
  • Mark a point at the counter to allow for service of the customer at the front of the line – this becomes the ‘customer being served’ spot
  • From the centre of the ‘customer being served’ spot, measure 2m back and mark another point – this becomes the ‘second customer in line’ spot
  • Continue adding Safe Queue spots in the available space.  For some sites there will only be enough space for a 2 person queue, for others the layout may allow a longer queue
  • Remember, if there is an ATM or other high traffic store destinations, places that many customers will want to go to, that you should not have a Safe Queue spot within 1.5m of those high traffic store destinations.  You do not want your customers unable to visit these destinations because the would have to get too close to someone in the queue.  Similarly you should consider the path of people who would be entering into the doors, a Safe Queue spot placed in the doorway would result in breaching social distancing fairly quickly.

3. Consider the rest of the store for ‘shoppers’

  • Imagine a person on each of the Safe Queue spots and then visualise the rest of the store
  • Consider the regular shopper patterns on entering the store.  Do shoppers typically go down a particular aisle to get to the drinks section?  Do shoppers go up and down all aisles (note this may be a new behaviour due to the current situation)?
  • Determine, based on your situation, if your site has enough room for 1, 2, 3 or more people to be ‘shopping’ without coming into the Safe Queue space, or eachothers space

4. Add the Safe Queue number of people to the ‘shoppers’ number to get your Practical Person Limit

  • Check that your Practical Person Limit number is less that the Maximum Occupancy number.  If it is you have your Practical Safe Shopping Person Limit.  If it is not you will need to ensure you lower your number to match that of the Maximum Occupancy.

Someplace Store Example;

1. Work out the 4sqm Maximum Occupancy

  • Customer area of the shop is 6 metres long and 12 metres wide
  • 6m x 12m = 72sqm
  • 72sqm / 4sqm = 18 blocks of 4sqm = 18 people Maximum Occupancy

2. Build and mark out a Safe Queue

  • Safe Queue is 2 people, one at the counter and one 2meters back.  The Safe Queue can not be longer because of the placement of the doors and the ATM.  Extension of the Safe Queue into the aisles would reduce shopping capacity so the Safe Queue number is 2.

3. Consider the rest of the store for ‘shoppers’

  • Consideration shows 2 ‘shoppers’ could effectively navigate the store without invading each others safe social distancing or crossing over with the Safe Queue, so the ‘shoppers’ number is 2.

4. Add the Safe Queue number of people to the ‘shoppers’ number to get your Practical Person Limit

  • Safe Queue of 2, plus the ‘shoppers’ of 2 makes a Practical Person Limit of 4
  • The Practical Person Limit of 4 is less than the Maximum Occupancy of 18 so the Practical Safe Shopping Person Limit is 4.

Communicating to Customers

It is important to communicate the requirements of social distancing to customers, and to ensure that they are queuing (particularly) where you have assessed it is safe to queue.  This can be achieved with stickers, taped crosses on the floor or other indicators.

It can also be helpful to post notices to customers before they enter the store (such as on the pumps), and on the entry doors, to remind them of the importance of these measures.

ACAPMA has produced customer facing posters  and a Social Distancing poster has been added to the resource group – see: https://acapmag.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Keeping-Customers-and-Staff-Safe-Safe-Shopping-1.pdf for the Social Distancing Poster.

Managing Safe Limits

Businesses must be vigilant to ensure that the measures for Safe Shopping limits and distances are being observed, if there are maximum customers instore operators should communicate with customers entering the store politely, but firmly “I am sorry we are at capacity inside at the moment, if you could wait at the door I will waive you in in just a moment, thank you”.  Alternatively, where controlled entry is available it could be used to the same result.

Real Examples of Practical Safe Shopping Layouts

Below are some examples of Maximum vs Practical Safe Shopping limits.  ACAPMA thanks UCB – United Convenience Buyers – for providing the layouts at such short notice.

Small Store

Medium Store

Large Store

ACAPMA will keep this article updated with any changes, and will incorporate this article into the consolidated resource articles ACAPMA is maintaining covering COVID-19;

ACAPMA Members are reminded that if you have any questions about COVID-19 in your business you can email employment@acapma.com.au for answers and support.