Since Covid-19 hit the US in March, retailers around the country have taken store cleaning to another level. To keep shoppers and employees safe—or least feeling safe—companies are scrubbing down high-traffic areas, disinfecting surfaces such as touchscreens more frequently, and even employing robots to wipe floors.
For Walmart, which has more than 5,000 stores nationwide, all that work doesn’t come cheap. In its earnings update yesterday, the company said it spent $1.2 billion (pdf) on Covid-19 related costs in the US. CFO Brett Biggs explained on a call with investors and analysts that 75% went to expenses such as bonuses and benefits for employees. “So there’s about one quarter of that that’s related to cleaning and sanitation and other things inside the store,” he said.
That’s $300 million that Walmart spent on cleaning and sanitation in the 13 weeks ended July 31, or roughly $3.3 million a day. The figure also includes personal protective equipment (PPE) for Walmart associates, a spokesperson said. The costs are bearable for a company that pulled in $137.7 billion in sales (pdf) during the same period, a 5.6% increase over last year. But it also shows how some expenses have grown for businesses operating during the pandemic.
Walmart has taken measures such as spraying down shopping carts with a sanitizing solution and in several cases closing stores for deep cleaning when employees tested positive for the new coronavirus. It’s unclear how much these steps really protect the millions of frontline workers at risk, when the main way Covid-19 spreads is through respiratory droplets passed during close person-to-person contact. Walmart and numerous other retailers have also made it mandatory for employees and customers to wear masks.
There’s no indication that retailers will be able to ease up on these steps anytime soon. Referring to the added costs of cleaning, Biggs said on the call, “There’s certainly going to be some part of that that continues the rest of the year and potentially, I would think, into next year as well.”