Walmart CEO says stores still having difficulty stocking hand sanitizer, toilet paper

The president and CEO of Walmart believes a change in shopping habits could go a long way toward ending customers' disappointment in finding empty shelves when trying to buy items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Doug McMillon spoke to Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Friday about the challenges of stocking high-demand products and what it will take to be able to provide them more consistently.

"I think it's important that everyone know that our merchandise continues to flow,'' he said. "Hand sanitizer's been a little harder to come by. Our associates have it. We're working to put it on the shelf, but as soon as we do, it's gone."

Toilet paper and paper towels continue to fly off shelves, he said.

"In the last five days, we've sold enough toilet paper for every American to have their own roll," he said. "There's been plenty of flow coming, but if everyone could just manage and buy week to week rather than stocking up at this point it would be helpful for everybody."

Millions of Americans under orders to stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus has also meant some altered buying habits beyond high-demand items.

"You can definitely see as people have stayed home, their focus has shifted," McMillon said. "It started out with food and consumables and then it moved to things like puzzles and games, things to entertain kids and educate children, as you would guess."

Many more people are also going the route of TODAY's Carson Daly and trying to give their hair a trim until they can see a professional barber or hairstylist again.

"Lately we've seen more grooming products," McMillon said. "People are starting to need a haircut, so you start to see more beard trimmers and hair color and things like that. It's interesting to watch the dynamic play out."

McMillon also outlined the increased safety measures that Walmart has taken for employees and customers, including reduced hours, cleaning stores overnight, masks and gloves for workers, plexiglass at cashier stands and the pharmacy, limiting the amount of customers in the store and taking the temperature of employees before they start their shift.

Some of the changes have come after a family of a 51-year-old Walmart employee in Chicago who died from coronavirus filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. The suit claimed Walmart was negligent and failed to alert workers after several employees began showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Savannah raised the question of whether the safety measures that have been implemented came too late now that multiple employees have died from the illness.

"Our heart goes out to those families and the associates in those stores," McMillon said. "We certainly don't want any associates coming to work if they are not feeling well and they have a (high) temperature."