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A Running Guide to Store Policies That Have Changed in Response to Coronavirus

By Elissa Sanci
Updated August 18, 2020
A Running Guide to Store Policies That Have Changed in Response to Coronavirus
Photo: Space_Cat/iStock

Almost every day, it seems, we’re learning more about the novel coronavirus, how it spreads, and what we need to do to prevent new cases from developing. As the country reacts to this information and adopts new measures to protect ourselves, so have our essential businesses. But as a result, the American shopping experience looks quite different than it did just a few months ago. While the CDC issues new recommendations and both local, state, and national mandates evolve, big-name and small-scale retailers alike are updating their safety protocols and policies every day.

With the rules and regulations constantly shifting, it can be hard to keep up, especially since not every store is rolling out the same policies. To help you cut through the noise and find what you need easily, Wirecutter has put together a running guide that breaks down the policy changes and updates at the national chains most readily available to our readers. From new hours of operation to updated return policies, this shopping resource pulls together all the information you need to know before you pull on your mask and head out—and we’ll be updating it as the store policies change.

The fastest way to get your item is to make your purchase online and select in-store pickup (and if you’re concerned about the safety of your packages, you can find more information about package and mail handling here).

In response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the US, Amazon has implemented many changes across its warehouses and Whole Foods grocery stores nationwide. All of their policy changes have been detailed in Amazon’s COVID-19 blog, but here are the most important updates we think you should know about.


  • The company has returned to its standard return policy and shoppers will once again have 30 days from the date of purchase to make a return.
  • To fight price gouging, Amazon is monitoring its stores 24/7 and removing anyone found inflating prices; according to an Amazon COVID-19 blog published in March, the company is also “collaborating with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and policymakers to hold price gougers accountable.”
  • CNBC reported that Amazon is pushing Prime Day to October. Although the official date has yet to be released, Amazon has confirmed that Prime Day will be pushed to the fourth quarter of 2020.
  • In Amazon warehouses across the country, temperature checks have been implemented and personal protective gear, such as masks and gloves, were distributed to employees. The company has also enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures in warehouses. (Amazon employees have still raised concerns about warehouse working conditions as the company responds to coronavirus. You can find more details from the New York Times.)

Whole Foods

  • As of July 20, all Whole Foods customers are required to wear face coverings while shopping in-store. The store will provide free masks to customers who don’t have their own.
  • In brick and mortar Whole Foods locations nationwide, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson shared that social distancing measures and crowd control protocols have been in effect since March 25. As a result, the number of employees and shoppers in a location at any given time will be restricted based on the size of the store.
  • Customers ordering delivery from Prime Now, Amazon Fresh, and Whole Foods Market can now select “unattended delivery” during checkout.
  • Employees undergo daily temperature checks and have been provided with masks and gloves. Plexiglass shields have been placed between cashiers and customers at check out as well.
  • Store hours have been modified to give employees more time to restock shelves, sanitize stores, and fulfill online grocery orders. Check your local Whole Foods for updated hours as they vary location by location.
  • All Whole Foods locations have dedicated shopping hours for customers who the CDC defines as high risk. Shoppers are no longer allowed to use personal, reusable bags or containers in store, and Whole Foods has suspended all food sampling and closed the self-serve buffet as well.
  • Because of a surge in demand, limitations have been placed on certain items (such as paper goods, sanitation tools, and canned goods). Check with your local Whole Foods for specifics, as this changes based on location.
  • According to Amazon’s COVID-19 blog, Whole Foods Market grocery pickup has been expanded to include more than 150 locations nationwide out of their more than 475 stores. Previously, only 80 locations offered grocery pickup.
  • To help shoppers more easily secure delivery windows, Amazon has staggered window releases throughout the day. The next available delivery window times also now included on the homepages of Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market.

The wholesale grocer has updated its policies over the last few weeks in response to COVID-19. Though representatives weren’t able to provide comment on these policy changes, they are listed on Costco’s website.

  • Costco requires all shoppers to wear a face covering worn over their mouths and noses at all times when in the warehouse store.
  • At the start of the pandemic, Costco warehouses in the US only allowed two people to enter stores with each membership card; the store has now reverted back to their original policy, which allows cardholders to bring two additional shoppers along with them. In Puerto Rico, whoever, only one person per card will be allowed to enter.
  • Some Costco locations may have reduced hours. Check with your local warehouse for specific hours. Costco gas stations have also reduced hours as well.
  • According to its website, Costco warehouses nationwide are now opening their doors from 9am to 10am Monday through Friday for members ages 60 or older, as well as folks with disabilities or those who are immunocompromised. These hours are subject to change by location, so be sure to check the specifics at your local Costco.
  • With proof of ID, healthcare workers and first responders with Costco memberships can receive priority access to warehouses and skip to the front of the line. In Massachusetts, however, healthcare workers and first responders aren’t allowed to enter during Senior Shopping Hours.
  • Warehouses are still allowing shoppers to use reusable bags and containers, but with one caveat: Shoppers must bag their own groceries.
  • Because of the rise in demand, Costco is placing purchase limits on certain products. Check with your local warehouse for specific items and limits.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, Costco isn’t accepting returns on toilet paper, bottled water, sanitizing wipes, paper towels, rice, or disinfecting spray.
  • The food court is open for takeout orders only.

Target has rolled out a number of policy changes over the last few months in an effort to serve customers during the COVID-19 crisis. More information can be found on Target’s coronavirus response landing page.

Target stores

  • Target requires all shoppers to wear masks or face coverings at all times when in the store. To help, Target will be providing disposable masks to guests who don’t have one.
  • More rigorous cleaning protocols are being followed in stores nationwide. According to Target’s site, employees are stationed at store entrances to clean carts and baskets; checkout lanes are cleaned between each transaction; and open checkout lanes are rotated throughout the day to allow for deep cleanings in lanes not being used.
  • Employees have been given face masks and gloves, and Plexiglass barriers have been placed to separate the employees and shoppers at checkout lanes, as well as at in-store CVS Pharmacy, Target Optical, and the electronics and service desks.
  • Target has implemented protocols to encourage guests to wear masks or face coverings and to remain six feet apart while entering and shopping in store. This includes actively monitoring (and restricting, when necessary) the number of shoppers in-store; dedicating employees to ensure guests wait in line at an appropriate distance; overhead audio messaging and signage in-store.
  • Quantity limits are placed on in-demand items, though it varies by store.
  • All Target locations nationwide will now close at 10pm daily. Dedicated shopping time for vulnerable guests is available during the first hour stores are open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (check with your local Target as hours vary by location).
  • Target stores are now accepting returns and exchanges again. Most items can be returned within 90 days of purchase to receive a refund or exchange.
  • Target locations are once again allowing shoppers to use their own reusable bags at checkout.

Grocery delivery and pickup

  • Target locations have increased staffing to fulfill in-demand, same day services like Drive Up and Order Pickup. Protocols have been put in place to make these services contactless; for instance, employees are placing Drive Up orders directly in trunks or back seats, and customer signatures are no longer required upon pickup.
  • More parking spaces are being dedicated for Drive Up customers.
  • Customers are still able to order grocery delivery through Shipt. Deliveries are also contactless, as Shipt Shoppers drop groceries at customers’ doors.
  • Delivery windows are difficult to secure, but Target.com is being updated regularly with Shipt delivery windows, as well as with estimated fulfillment and shipping times.

New protocols have been implemented at Walmart locations nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic to make shopping easier and safer for guests and employees. You can read more about Walmart’s COVID-19 response on their website.

Walmart store

  • Walmart now requires all shoppers to wear face coverings while in-store.
  • Walmart locations nationwide are limiting the number of people in a store at one time to no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet, which cuts the store’s capacity by 80 percent. Employees stationed at the entry door will be admitting customers one by one to keep count; once capacity has been reached, shoppers will be admitted on a one in, one out basis.
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, Walmart paused returns and exchanges for food, paper goods, cleaning supplies, soap, apparel, and health, beauty and pharmacy products, but as of June 15, the store has returned to its normal policy in most states—be sure to check in for specific details at your local Walmart. If you’d like to return something you picked up between April 20 and June 15, you’ll have until Sept. 15 to do so (just don’t forget your receipt!).
  • Walmart stores are using a single, designated entrance and another designated exit to help maintain social distancing.
  • Plastic barriers have been installed at each register and protective gear (like masks and gloves) are provided to employees, who are required to wear face coverings at work.
  • One-way aisles have been instituted in some Walmart locations, with floor markers and employees directing shoppers.
  • As of August 17, most Walmart stores nationwide are changing their closing time from 8:30pm to 10pm.
  • Walmart locations (including pharmacies) are open an hour early every Tuesday to accommodate customers age 60 and older. Check with your local store for more specifics.
  • Most Walmart pharmacies are open 9am to 7pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 6pm on Sundays. For seniors and high-risk folks, some pharmacies are able to accommodate drive-through or no-contact curbside pickup or mail delivery.
  • Walmart’s vision centers will be open in most locations from 10am to 2pm to serve emergency and essential needs, as well as fulfilling existing orders. However, they are no longer accepting orders for non-emergency or non-essential needs.
  • Walmart’s Auto Care Centers are temporarily closed. Some stores may have chosen to suspend jewelry counter services, as well.
  • Purchase limits have been placed on certain high-demand items, such as paper products, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, formula, and baby food.

Grocery delivery and pick up

  • Walmart is now offering no-contact pickup nationwide. Customers are no longer required to sign at pickup and an employee will place bags directly in a shopper’s truck or backseat.
  • Delivery drivers are also practicing social distancing protocols. The driver will stay in the car while another employee loads the order into the vehicle to limit exposure. If shoppers select contactless drop-off when ordering, the driver will leave the order at their doorsteps.
  • Walmart’s website warns online shoppers that, because the demand for delivery and pick up is so high, they might encounter delays, cancellations, or long wait times during pickup.

Trader Joe’s locations have adjusted their policies recently to follow all federal, state, and local health advisories to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.

  • All Trader Joe’s customers are required to wear face coverings while shopping in-store.
  • All Trader Joe’s locations are conducting wellness checks on employees at the start of their shifts. Employees are also provided with face masks and gloves. Plexiglass shields have been installed at registers to protect employees and customers in most Trader Joe’s locations.
  • All store hours nationwide have been revised, with all locations now closing at 9pm. Trader Joe’s stores also dedicate the first hour of opening to serve senior customers and those with disabilities.
  • Trader Joe’s stores are limiting the number of customers allowed in stores to ensure customers avoid close contact. When capacity is reached, customers are required to stand in a line outside the store, standing six feet apart.
  • In addition to cleaning grocery carts and baskets, stores are also keeping every other register closed (and alternating open registers for regular cleaning throughout the day).

Best Buy has recently reopened most of the locations that were closed to shoppers at the start of the pandemic, and the store is still providing contactless curb-side pickup for all customers. Best Buy’s updated policies can be found on its website.

  • As of July 15, all Best Buy shoppers are required to wear a face covering when inside the store.
  • Best Buy is still offering contactless curbside service at most locations across the country. Employees will bring items ordered on BestBuy.com or through the Best Buy app to shoppers’ cars. Shoppers will also be able to ask about additional products that they forgot to add to their order. As long as the item is in stock, Best Buy employees will head inside to get the item and sell it to customers curbside.
  • Shoppers will still be able to make returns and exchanges curbside with proof of purchase and ID.
  • Best Buy is now providing in-home installations, haul-aways, or repairs for large home appliances. The company is also resuming in-home deliveries of these large products. To see the safety protocols they’re following, they’ve created a video and list of the procedures they’re following here.

Lowe’s has adjusted their guidelines and store policies recently to ensure that the health and well-being of their employees and customers is not compromised. There are many ways to continue shopping safely, says Steve Salazer, a spokesperson for Lowe’s, including online fulfillment, curbside loading and at-home delivery.

  • As of July 20, all Lowe’s customers will be required to wear masks or face coverings while shopping in-store. Any customer who arrives without a mask or face covering can pick up a complimentary mask at the customer service desk.
  • All Lowe’s employees are required to wear a face mask or approved face covering while working in a store or a customer’s home. Lowe’s has also made masks and gloves available to all associates.
  • Plexiglass shields were installed at all registers to protect the cashiers, customer service associates, and shoppers.
  • The company has rolled out a curbside pickup process so customers can be served without leaving their car, says Salazer. “Each store has designated curbside parking spaces with signs that provide the appropriate number for a customer to call to initiate a Lowe’s associate to deliver and load the order into the customer’s car.”
  • Lowe’s is actively monitoring the number of customers in stores and is limiting the number of people as needed based on any given store’s square footage. “We recently developed an app that counts customer traffic and alerts the team to changes they need to make when a store is nearing capacity,” says Salazer. Such changes include placing employees at entrances to only allow customers in when other customers leave.
  • Substantial updates have been made to Lowe’s floor layouts to support the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing— this has opened up aisle space by removing displays to make it easier for both employees and customers to get the items they need quickly and safely.
  • The company has reverted back to its standard return policy which allows shoppers to make returns up to 90 days after purchase.

Much like other retailers, Home Depot has taken measures and enacted policy changes to protect the safety of its employees and customers. More details about Home Depot’s COVID-19 response can be found on its website.

  • All Home Depot shoppers are required to wear masks or face coverings when shopping in the store.
  • Home Depot is monitoring and limiting the number of customers allowed inside stores at any given time based on the square footage of the store. According to a Home Depot spokesperson, this means about 100 people are allowed in at a time. If the store reaches the limit, customers are asked to wait outside in a line spaced six feet apart.
  • To avoid high levels of foot traffic to stores, the company has eliminated its major promotions.
  • While opening hours remain unchanged, all Home Depot locations will close early to allow more time for employees to sanitize and restock shelves, but times may vary depending on location.
  • Signs encouraging shoppers to follow social distancing rules have been added throughout stores.
  • Due to high demand for both delivery and curbside pickup, a spokesperson has shared that the company is expanding its “buy online, pickup in store” option to the majority of its 2,200 stores nationwide.
  • The company’s return policy has been extended from 90 days after purchase to 180 days. Customers are encouraged not to return products to stores at this time.
  • Home Depot has curbed their service installation program to only those that are essential for maintenance and repair. Delivery and Home Service employees have been advised to follow preventive actions, such as handwashing, disinfecting objects, and carrying sanitizer.

Walgreens’ website offers information on the company’s detailed coronavirus response. According to a spokesperson, Walgreens is “closely monitoring and actively reviewing our policies, procedures and operations based on all federal, state and local health advisories, to promote the safety and wellbeing of our team members and customers.”

  • All customers shopping in-store are required to wear masks or face coverings.
  • Walgreens locations nationwide have started to clean stores more thoroughly, plexiglass shields have been added to checkout counters, and social distancing signs have been posted throughout stores. The company has also provided employees with face masks and has begun wellness screenings at the beginning of each shift.
  • According to a Walgreens’ spokesperson, some Walgreens locations have been limiting the number of customers allowed in stores depending on local government orders. Once capacity is reached, customers are asked to wait in a socially distanced line outside.
  • Most Walgreens locations will resume standard operating hours. You’ll need to check the store locator tool for specific store and pharmacy hours. However, for Walgreens locations with a 24-hour drive-through pharmacy, the drive-through will continue to stay open even after the front of the store has closed.
  • Walgreens’ Postmates on-demand delivery service is now available nationwide and delivery fees on eligible prescriptions have been waived.
  • Customers can now buy some products normally sold in-store through the pharmacy drive-through. This includes things like cleaning supplies, infant formula, medical supplies, and over the counter medication.
  • Products in high-demand are limited to a specific number per product category per customer. Thermometers, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide are limited to one. First aid antiseptic, disinfectant wipes and cleaners, paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissues are now limited to two. Gloves are limited to four.
  • Most Walgreens locations have closed down the majority of their photo kiosks (but at least one kiosk will still be available to use in each store to help with essential services like Western Union and passport options).
  • Walgreens pharmacies are postponing all non-essential immunizations.

CVS locations nationwide have adjusted their policies and protocols in the face of COVID-19. Visit the CVS Health website for more information on these policy changes.

  • All CVS shoppers will be required to wear face masks in store as of July 16.
  • To encourage people to practice social distancing, customers won’t need to pay a fee for prescription deliveries. Customers are also urged to use the pharmacy drive-through if one is available.
  • CVS has rolled out per-customer purchase limits for certain high demand items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
  • Returns are temporarily suspended across all locations because of possible contamination risks, says Michael DeAngelis, senior director of communications for CVS.
  • CVS is limiting the amount of shoppers in stores to 40 to 60 people, depending on the store, DeAngelis says. For locations in counties with specific regulations, CVS is following those guidelines.
  • CVS Caremark is working with all clients to waive early refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications so folks can stock up whenever is most convenient to them.

About your guide

Elissa Sanci

Elissa Sanci

Staff Writer

Elissa Sanci is a staff writer for Wirecutter, where she covers deals, consumer shopping, and personal finance. Based in Denver, she previously worked as an editorial assistant at Woman’s Day, where she wrote about everything from worthy charities to girls’ empowerment. Her byline has also appeared in Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire.

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