Cleaning and sanitizing became top priorities for retailers during the pandemic. Retailers that believe they can relax their standards post-pandemic are in for a surprise — customers are maintaining those higher expectations for a clean store environment and consider cleanliness a critical indicator for where they will shop. In short, store cleanliness has become a deal breaker for shoppers.
“The pandemic has put, and is keeping, cleanliness top of mind for consumers,” affirms Lisa Robinson, VP of global food safety and public health at St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab. A recent Ecolab consumer survey revealed that 86% of consumers said a business’ commitment to public health and safety factors into their decision to patronize a location.
[Read more: "Giant Eagle Enhances Cleaning Practices Through Ecolab Certification"]
Other studies support the idea that cleanliness is key to attracting shoppers. A recent survey by Pleasanton, Calif.-based ServiceChannel found that four out of five shoppers said they’d rather shop at a clean store than one with the newest tech, while nine out of 10 respondents said that a clean and organized store environment increases the likelihood they’ll make a purchase.
As a result, “many retailers are increasing the frequency and variety of their regular cleaning operations to ensure the highest levels of sanitation for their customers, employees and suppliers,” says William Santiago, CEO of Badger Technologies, a retail automation company based in Nicholasville, Ky.
Mike Perazzo, EVP of sales at Kaivac, a Hamilton, Ohio-based manufacturer of cleaning machines, agrees that post-pandemic customers have “a heightened awareness about hygiene and cleanliness and aesthetics.” Perazzo notes that consumers are increasingly looking for higher levels of customer experience in the stores they visit, and a clean environment is a big part of that.
“First-impression areas are always a focal point for shoppers,” observes Dennis O’Brien, CEO of Cleaning Services Group (CSG), a Danvers, Mass.-based cleaning company. “This includes the parking lot, the perimeter of the store, vestibule and front end. One recent study found 52% of shoppers would avoid a store entirely if it looked unappealing from the outside.”
According to O’Brien, CSG pays close attention to these areas, especially in Snowbelt areas where excessive salt and sand can build up and create messy conditions. “We stay ahead of salt/sand buildup on the outside of the store to minimize the amount that’s tracked inside the store, and we do it without compromising safety,” he adds.
Attention to sanitation in high-touch areas is still important to consumers. Ecolab’s research shows that two of the first things consumers look for when assessing a store’s cleanliness are the availability of hand sanitizer and frequent and visible cleaning of high-touch objects.
“Our research shows that 71% of consumers say they want to see store employees cleaning while they’re shopping, 64% say they want hospital cleaning products to be used, and 47% say they appreciate knowing that the store had independent cleanliness audits,” says Robinson.
Best Practices Start From the Top
Grocers setting cleanliness standards have a top-down commitment to keeping stores clean. “Retailers have to design a best practice and keep their teams accountable,” asserts Perazzo.
O’Brien notes that adding a written policy for store associates to review and sign upon hiring can have an impact on overall cleanliness of a store. “Providing clear expectations with the store teams and leading by example is a good place to start,” he says. “CSG trains store teams on how to maintain the store’s cleanliness throughout the day, and this has proven to be very successful.”
According to Santiago, retailers that leverage real-time data collection to develop safety and cleaning protocols, and establish regular reporting processes to improve audit and compliance requirements, are most able to improve the appearance and cleanliness of stores.
CSG quality control CAP (communication, accountability, proactivity) software allows a store manager to access a store through an online portal and rate the level of cleanliness for each area in the store. Comments can also be added, and the information is sent in real time to the area supervisor, district manager and VP of operations so that the issue can be addressed immediately.