By Kevin L. Robinson, DeCA public affairs specialist | Photo: Shoppers at the Fort Lee, Virginia, Commissary, use the self-checkout lanes at the store. DeCA photo: Mike Cerny
FORT LEE, Va. – The Defense Commissary Agency announced several operational policies to help stores better serve customers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
These policies include the following actions:
- Effective immediately, a 100-percent ID card check at all commissaries, so that only authorized customers – this includes disabled veterans with VHIC cards – will be able to shop. While this policy is in effect visitors will not be allowed to enter the commissary. This is designed help with social distancing and crowd control. Children under 10 with their parents don’t have to have an ID card.
- Effective March 15, to prevent customer-to-customer spread of germs, commissary cashiers no longer handle patron ID cards. Instead, customers will be asked to scan their own ID. Cashiers can use the handheld scanner if available or have the customer scan their own card.
- Effective March 19, all commissaries will suspend early bird shopping to allow more time to clean and restock the store.
- In a move to lessen panic-buying, the agency instructed its store directors worldwide to use their discretion in placing the shopping limits necessary to help maintain stock availability.
Rear Adm. (Ret.) Robert J. Bianchi, DOD special assistant for commissary operations, announced the shopping limits policy March 14 in response to a growing number of customers engaged in unauthorized purchases for the purposes of resale or hoarding.
The shopping directive, effective immediately, gives store directors more authority to quickly tailor shopping limits, as required, to keep more products available for more customers, Bianchi said.
“These decisions should not contravene or override any restrictions or guidance provided by installation commanders,” Bianchi said. “However, in the absence of installation commander direction, our store directors are now authorized to make local decisions as they deem necessary to control stock shortages through instances such as panic buying and unauthorized purchases for resale.”
From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, commissaries overseas – starting with stores in Italy, South Korea and Japan – instituted shopping limits on items such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants and toilet paper.
As coronavirus fears ignited a surge of customer activity worldwide, it became necessary for commissary officials to counter panic buying to take care of all customers, Bianchi said.
“Now our store directors have the flexibility to institute shopping limitations if no directives exist,” he said. “They still must inform base leadership when they are implementing these restrictions, but they can use my authority to move forward.”
From a product availability standpoint, commissaries continue to work with their industry suppliers to support the needs of senior leaders on the ground at each location. This support manifests itself through increased deliveries to the commissaries that need it most. For overseas stores this means emergency airlifts of high-demand items to counter delays of shipboard supply containers.
“We know this is a potentially stressful time for all concerned,” Bianchi said. “But together we will meet these challenges and support our service members and their families throughout the duration of this crisis wherever necessary.
“We always recommend to our customers that they calmly purchase what they need and avoid any panic buying to ensure products are available for others in their communities.”
Preventing virus spread at stores
The “No ID handling” policy is just one of many actions stores are implementing to help prevent COVID-19 exposure, said James “Jay” Hudson, principal deputy director of DeCA’s Store Operations Group.
“We consider the health and welfare of our customers and our employees our No. 1 concern,” Hudson said. “Our stores are following the highest standards of the Department of Defense’s health protection. This means we’re using disinfectant cleaners to wipe down our checkout areas, restrooms and shopping carts frequently. We’re also ensuring our associates practice routine hand washing and other basic sanitation measures to avoid spreading germs.”
Hudson also said DeCA encourages its employees to closely monitor their health, and asks them to stay home if they, or someone in their household, are sick.
Commissary customers should continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus site for updates and guidance regarding this virus. Updates related to the commissaries can be found on DeCA’s Coronavirus page.