Retailers Walk a Fine Line on Vaccine
retailers-walk-a-fine-line-on-vaccine

Retailers Walk a Fine Line on Vaccine

By  |  January 19, 2021  |  Uncategorized  |  No Comments

Since the start of the pandemic, political divisions extended beyond elections and legislating to signify retail shoppers’ approach to health and safety issues amid continuing Covid-19 spikes.

Wearing or not wearing a mask came to be seen as a statement of ideology rather than as a safety precaution. It’s a condition to which even the vaccine itself is not immune.

Spend a little time on social media platforms such as Facebook, and skepticism about the effectiveness and the potential side effects of the vaccine abound — despite assurances grounded in ample evidence from epidemiologists, credible health care professionals and trusted cultural figures regarding the safety of the vaccines being rolled out.

Retailers must, first and foremost, create a safe and healthy environment. The complication of alienating customers—and even employees—who might oppose the vaccine is an unfortunate consequence of the misinformation that’s run amok. And it’s especially unfortunate for retailers struggling with endless other economic pressures caused by the pandemic. Navigating that territory without losing members of the workforce and vital business during the pandemic requires a particularly clear strategic mindset and the ability to accept some difficult choices.

Carrots, not sticks

Dollar General and consumer-facing companies like it, including delivery platform Instacart, grocery chain Trader Joe’s and Aldi USA , think they have found an answer: Incentivizing, rather than requiring, employees to be vaccinated.

Dollar General was the first to make such an announcement, saying in a statement: “Understanding the vaccination of healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents is underway and the CDC currently recommends the next phase of vaccinations be offered to frontline essential workers, we want to be on the forefront of facilitating our employees’ ability to receive the Covid-19 vaccine if they so choose—and we encourage all of our team to receive the vaccine when it’s available.

While Instacart, Aldi USA and Trader Joe’s will also be compensating employees, they didn’t explicitly say whether or not they were requiring workers to be inoculated. Dollar General, Instacart and Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment as of this article’s publication.

It remains to be seen whether incentivizing workers will be an effective tactic, not only in convincing employees to get the shot, but also persuade people to shop in their stores.

“The more aggressive commitment from Dollar General would be to mandate that all employees get vaccinated,” said Hayes Roth, founder of the brand consultancy HA Roth Consulting. “That may be difficult for them to manage, however, given who is likely their predominant employee base (and target audience) so this certainly seems as reasonable alternative step.”

Competitive risks

For national retailers with a large presence in red states and blue states, in rural areas and urban centers, it’s a complicated topic. But, those complications shouldn’t confuse management, says David Lemley, president and head of strategy at Retail Voodoo.

“I believe the right thing to do is not make it political and require everyone to get vaccinated,” he explained. “Incentivizing provides better optics for employees who may be less inclined to complain if the company pays for it.”

But not requiring employees to get vaccinated to alleviate shoppers’ concerns also leaves the door open for competitors.

“Aside from risking employee health, if given a choice to shop at a store with a sign saying ‘All our employees are vaccinated and we continue to practice COVID-safe protocols’ versus a store who can’t claim that, seems a no brainer,” Roth said.

About the Author: Richard Collings

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