ALA is aware of and acting on the pandemic-caused patron base and store access problem. Base commanders and local exchange and commissary officials are imposing restrictions on access. And, it’s affecting sales because many consumers don’t know from day-to-day what the restrictions are, and many don’t bother coming at all and opt for local stores off base that they know they can get to.
Base and store restrictions are changing along with the infection rates being experienced locally. They range from not allowing retirees on base at all, impeding or stopping access on certain days to retirees, to limiting base access to essential workers to barring eligible veteran shoppers. At the store level, the resale agencies are imposing restrictions on operating hours. specifying days for shopping to limiting the number of people that can be in their facilities.
The problem comes when customers don’t know if they can get on base and, once they do get on base, whether they are going to be allowed in the stores. It’s frustrating for customers to get to the gate and find out they can’t get on base that day. Or, when they get to the store, they find out there are more restrictions. So, many don’t bother coming at all. That’s hurting sales at many exchange and commissary locations with DeCA reporting for the first time that active duty sales exceed other patron sales. And, after two months of sales leaps (March and April) DeCA sales are getting clobbered by the base restrictions. Of course, the good news is that the stores are open and there have been limited closures due to COVID infections. That’s due to the extreme COVID prevention measures being taken by military retailers and assisted by the “mission essential” designation for commissaries that was issued by DoD in the Spring which ALA supported.
Keeping stores open and stocked is no accident. It is the result of extraordinary efforts by ALA and its member companies up and down the supply chain including highly sensitive distribution hubs and and CPG manufacturers (particularly meat-packing plants), military sales brokers to keep their workers safe and disinfect facilities to keep operations open, trucks rolling and shelves stocked, with most CPG companies recognizing the unique and critical requirements of the global military channel and stepping up with product allocations in a scarce commodity environment. It’s the result of extraordinary efforts by employees and management of the resale agencies to keep exchanges and commissaries open and products moving in a sporadic surge environment. It’s the result of shelf stocking companies and other in-store support industry workers who showed up and delivered during the pandemic. Simply put, it’s been a remarkable collaborative and orchestrated team effort; one that kept military families supplied at a time when they faced great fear and uncertainty. The pandemic tested the strength and resilience of the military resale channel. Consumers had their needs met and commanders had their family readiness and mission needs fulfilled—world wide and under extraordinarily difficult conditions.
Communication…communication…communication. The pandemic has complicated everything. And, when you have situations where employees have to interact with consumers, it adds another dimension and extra level of complication to the shopping equation. Infection preventive measures are of course critical. And, once infection preventive measures are in place, communication with employees and consumers is critical to reassure them that the shopping experience is safe. This is further complicated by base access and in-store restrictions and it is critical that we let shoppers know when they can shop.
There’s not much we can do about what base commanders determine as their need to protect their communities. And, there’s not much we can do about how local commissaries and exchanges adapt to the changing restrictions and make determinations on the best access practices to protect their employees and customers.
But there is something we can do about informing patrons; And we are.
All of us in the military channel need to up our game on communications. We are working with ALA member media partners to take the daily information put out by DoD and the resale commands and get that information directly into the hands of military consumers on a timely basis. We’ll be ramping up the echo chamber by working to push information to and working with our media partners beginning with MyMilitarySavings.com (which has direct contact with millions of military consumers), and others in the print and digital media business in this channel to push information to consumers to let them know the rules and restrictions that are in place at the base gate and at the stores.
ALA gets a daily feed from DeCA that is rolled up from input they get from their stores daily. We will, in turn, move to use this and other information to update local information to let patrons know the latest on safe stores and base access.
We will be working with the resale agencies and the installation commands within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to leverage their communications vehicles and enhance their media reach to get timely information into the hands of the consumers to let them know shopping is safe and let them know when the stores and bases can be accessed.
Further, we will be reaching out to the Department of Defense to work with them to get information into the hands of the military consumer as soon as possible. DoD has a vast reservoir of information on every eligible military patron. It’s housed at the Defense Manpower Data Center and fed daily be the military services. We’ll be getting together with them to see how we can accelerate consumer contacts through Defense channels in concert with our media members. We will do this through ALA’s participation in an organization called the Federation for Identity and Cross Credentialing, a coalition of organizations to examine innovate ways to access bases and computer networks.
Many of you have been seeing various HPCON levels at bases. This is the guide for how stringent base and store access rules are imposed. DoD has a protocol for dealing with public health emergencies. HPCON of “Health Protection Condition” is the DoD’s term and it, in turn, provides guidance for base commanders to limit access at the gate and for base store operators to develop store restrictions. There are five levels:
HPCON Zero (normal)
HPCON Alpha (limited)
HPCON Brav0 (moderate)
HPCON Charlie (substantial)
HPCON Delta (severe)
We’ll be updating you on the progress of the communication efforts and encourage any companies that have communications capabilities to join the effort either by direct contact with ALA Headquarters or through the ALA Commissary and Exchange Councils.