7 Signs You Shouldn't Step Foot into a Store

You can't avoid shopping forever, but you should avoid stores making these virus-spreading mistakes.

Life is slowly returning to something resembling "normal" amid the coronavirus pandemic, with many states gradually reopening businesses to the delight of workers and patrons alike. However, just because some of your favorite places are open again doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to go inside. If you want to protect yourself on your next outing, you have to check for certain markers that indicate the business is following guidelines. To help you know what to avoid in a store, look out for these surefire signs that you should head for the door. And for more insight into how shopping is changing, check out these 7 Things You Won't See at Retail Stores Ever Again After Coronavirus.

They are accepting returns of personal items.

young asian woman returning shirt to store clerk
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Since the onset of the pandemic, many stores have been more discerning about what items they'll accept as returns. While some big box stores, like Walmart, aren't taking returns of items like food, clothing, paper goods, cleaning supplies, pharmacy products, and health and beauty items, other stores haven't adopted such strict policies yet.

In particular, Enchanta Jenkins, MD, MHA, says that if personal products that could have come into contact with other shoppers' bodies—like clothing or cosmetics—are being returned, that could be putting shoppers in peril. She suggests that you avoid any store with overly flexible return policies until those guidelines are updated. And if you want to know how big box stores are trying to keep customers safe, discover The Coronavirus Safety Precautions Walmart Employees Have to Take Now.

They're not offering disinfectant wipes at the entrance.

white man wiping down shopping cart

One of the clearest signs a store is prioritizing its customers' well-being can be found right at the entrance. If a store offers shopping carts and baskets to those browsing its aisles but doesn't have disinfecting wipes available, it's likely to be a hotbed of germs.

In stores that don't offer these to shoppers, "germs [and] coronavirus are being transferred on carts and other objects, especially plastic items that can store COVID-19 for up to 72 hours," says Jenkins. And if you want to reduce your risk of coming into contact with the virus, make sure you know these 18 Things You Should Sanitize Every Day But Aren't.

They're not enforcing capacity limits.

shoppers waiting on line to get into supermarket

If a store looks packed to the gills and nobody seems to be limiting the number of people entering, you should probably head home instead of heading inside. "By having too many people in the store, physical distancing cannot be enforced and thus increases the risk of transmitting germs and viruses," explains Jenkins.

They're not putting down social distancing markers.

A placeholder label on the ground to reminder shoppers to practice social distancing

While you may think you're capable of eyeballing your distance from other shoppers, stores that are taking coronavirus safety seriously should have markers down to encourage social distancing at checkout counters and in other high-traffic areas. The common notion has been that six feet is a long enough distance to make it difficult for airborne respiratory droplets with traces of the virus to land on other shoppers. As Jenkins notes, "markers are a visual reminder to clients to stay two arms' lengths, or six feet, from others."

Employees aren't wearing masks.

young asian man wearing face mask in backpack store
Shutterstock/Odua Images

While wearing masks may not necessarily prevent the wearer from getting sick, they will keep employees' potentially-contaminated respiratory droplets off merchandise, displays, and shoppers, meaning you're less likely to pick something up while shopping. So, "if you see employees in a store have face masks hanging down past their face or they don't have masks at all, it's not a good sign," says Seema Sarin, MD, director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health.

They're still offering samples.

woman taking food samples in the grocery store

It may have once been fun to get a free sample of a snack at the supermarket, but today, seeing any kind of communal food in a store should have you walking the other way. Food sample displays mean "germs are easily transferred due to multiple hands in one dish or bowl," explains Jenkins. She says that providing samples during and shortly after the pandemic is "definitely a bad idea."

They have an open salad bar.

hand reaching into salad bar container

If a grocery store is actually working hard to keep its customers safe, their salad bar should be shut down—at least for the time being. "Avoid eating from open food containers, as they can easily accumulate germs from people passing around [them]," says Sarin, who deems open areas like salad bars "dangerous" during the pandemic.


Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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