Retailers are increasing the variety and frequency of cleaning practices to appeal to heightened consumer awareness of store cleanliness.
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.
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.
Automated solutions can help retailers resolve potential hazards quickly and avoid injuries to shoppers or workers.
Automated Solutions Improve Cleanliness
In addition to software, other new solutions are helping retailers assess their approaches to store cleaning and clean more efficiently. Ecolab, for example, has been working with retailers to elevate hygiene standards through the Ecolab Science Certified (ESC) program, a comprehensive, science-based public-health and food safety program that combines the use of EPA-approved disinfectants, detailed training and periodic auditing. The program is used at Coborn’s, Cub Foods, Bristol Farms, Ingles Markets, Sprouts Farmers Market and others.
“We created the Ecolab Science Certified program to give customers confidence that retailers are approaching cleanliness the right way,” explains Robinson. “We only provide the Ecolab Science Certified seal to those who meet the program’s rigorous criteria. Consumers who see the ESC seal on the front door of a grocery store, or on a food display cabinet within the store, can have confidence in their choice of outlet.”
Ecolab’s research showed that shoppers exposed to the ESC program indicated that they could increase their visits to an ESC store location by 18%.
Clean stores are also safer environments for employees and customers, so grocers need to monitor floor and shelf conditions continuously. “Retailers need to find opportunities to automate floor checks and capture real-time data about store conditions,” says Santiago. “They also need to adopt best practices for identifying and resolving potential hazards quickly, as a rapid-response process can mitigate the risks of costly slip-and-fall accidents.”
With self-checkout becoming more common, spills have become more frequent. “Retailers need to respond to the new reality of what we call ‘unplanned liquid events’ by cleaning the store frequently throughout the day, not just once the store is closed,” notes Perazzo.
Kaivac’s hybrid floor care program helps retailers complete quick cleanups during the day without having to use heavy commercial equipment that can block aisles and pose a danger to customers. “Our turnkey systems help retailers recover soils quicker and cut the dry by 90%, so they can keep that aisle or that checkout lane open and reduce the liability risk of an employee or customer slipping,” says Perazzo.
Badger Technologies has developed multipurpose autonomous robots that find as well as resolve potential floor hazards. Once a robot finds a spill, it stays in the area until the issue is resolved and a manager or employee directs the robot to resume floor checks. “Alerts about spills or debris can be made over in-store PA systems or sent directly to the store manager’s mobile device to expedite resolution,” observes Santiago.
Clean and sanitary restrooms are a critical part of any retailer's store maintenance strategy.
Clean Restrooms Are Critical
Grocers too often underestimate the importance of clean and attractive restrooms. “Retailers are doing their best to get people to stay in the store longer — they are adding a wine or craft beer bar and sampling gourmet cheese — but they are forgetting that if people are there longer, they’re likely to visit a part of the store that is typically not very pleasant,” says Perazzo. “We believe you can’t be serious about having a clean store if you don’t have a clean restroom.”
He continues: “Restrooms are a key biohazard waste transfer station. If those spaces aren’t cleaned well, those biohazards find their way out into the rest of the retail space. Then everything crumbles from there.”
Perazzo notes that retailers with high run times of Kaivac’s restroom-cleaning machines have higher customer service index scores.