helping you shop smarter

Store Capacity Limits amid COVID-19

Lineup outside store. Photo by K Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

In many parts of the world, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 has led to lockdowns consisting of limits on social gatherings, closures of non-essential businesses, and store capacity limits on businesses that remain open. Stores in many areas that can stay open are only allowed to let in a certain percentage of people relative to its capacity, which is determined using the store’s sales floor square footage. However, there will be times when it seems like a store is allowing fewer people in than what it’s reduced capacity is rated for. Let’s explore them!


Image of how a store's customers should be shopping in the COVID-19 Pandemic - with plenty of room around them to shop safely.
Red Dots illustrate how a store’s customers should ideally be spaced out. The key word here: ideally.

Let’s say that hypothetically, a store lets in 30 customers at a time, each represented by a red dot. This, in theory, gives everyone more than enough space to shop safely while being socially distanced. When people are this far apart, it allows the maximum amount of people under the store capacity limits. But who are we kidding – this is rare.


A likely scenario with Grocery Shoppers in COVID-19. They all shop in the same area of the store at once.
This figure shows everyone bunching up in the same part of the store. The two darker red dots indicate an asymptomatic carrier unknowingly making their rounds amongst a healthy population.

In this entirely possible scenario, many people (or, all thirty) bunch up in one part of the store. For effect, let’s say the two darker red dots are people infected with the virus and don’t know it. Does this look safe? I didn’t think so, so as a result, the store will let in fewer people at a time to prevent this scenario from happening. A graphic like this should also illustrate just how important it is to give each other space while shopping. You never know what gambles you are taking.


A likely scenario with Grocery Shoppers amid COVID-19. Everyone wanting to pay for their purchases at once.
This figure shows what all thirty people in the store can look like if they all check out at once. Nobody goes in, even when the entrance looks like nobody’s in the store.

A checkout line can go from 0 to 100 in literally 30 seconds. I’ve seen it happen multiple times. The issue here is that when every second checkout is open, checkout capacity is reduced by half. And you best believe someone read a price sign wrong and it needs to be double checked, keeping the lines longer than necessary. Sure, from the front door, it looks like nobody’s there. But trust us, we have a legal duty to keep you out until we have capacity, regardless of what your eyes tell you.


The biggest thing that keeps an outside line long is the actions of those who have made it inside. I have seen plenty of people wait for 10 minutes to get inside only to play on their phones endlessly once inside, rather than actually get their shopping done. Much of what I have outlined on my page on how people can be better customers would help greatly in a pandemic situation with store capacity limits.

Something else that keeps lines long is when people fail to come to the store prepared with lists. They will end up forgetting items, and wind up in line multiple times per week, which helps keep lines long. Arrive knowing what you need, and you’ll save your time, and the time of those around you.


Remember, these limits are in place to keep everyone safe – customers and employees alike. Everyone will be thrilled once this is over, but when it’s over, it helps if we’ve all stayed alive.

About the Grocery Store Insider

The Grocery Store Insider has worked in grocery retail for close to 20 years, and has worked in multiple areas of the store including produce, fresh meats, deli, produce, dry grocery, frozen foods, dairy, and checkouts. The Grocery Store Insider also has a College diploma in Business Administration-Marketing.