Integrity. Honesty. Value. Customer-centricity. The list of positive retail brand attributes goes on and on, but one new post-pandemic value has become more important than all the others: cleanliness.
Example: Ted Gallagher is vice president and partner at Environmental Hazards Control, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based company that disinfects retail locations and other business facilities. Since mid-March, he has had to add staff to accommodate round-the-clock operations and has been running at what he says is 120 percent of his capacity.
“It’s been stressful. We’re hoping to see an end of this before September,” he told Lancaster Online recently. “There’s times when they want their facility cleaned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the touchpoints they know their employees will have their hands on throughout the day: machinery controls, doorknobs, door handles, lunch tables, faucets, levers, anything [that] may come in contact with your hand.”
With PYMNTS’ COVID-19 research showing that health safety is the overriding factor for consumers returning to their former shopping behaviors, it follows that cleanliness has become a key brand attribute. Yet, there are strong and definitive cross-currents in the business. Fitting rooms have been strictly regulated or even shut down by some retailers. And if they’re open, the NRF recommends steaming clothes before they’re replaced. Contrast that with the photos of bargain hunters fighting outside Ross Dress for Less in Las Vegas, or the hordes of shoppers picking apart bargain bins at TJ Maxx.
Retailers are struggling to pay the rent and are overstocked with spring clothes, but they have to limit store density as they try to move them. Meanwhile, they are navigating requirements for thermometers and masks. These are important post-pandemic measures as cleanliness takes top priority – but the standards are inconsistent across different environments.
The smart play is to be safe and clean. Though not a retailer as such, Hilton shows how far smart companies are willing to go to enforce cleanliness. Last week, it announced a program to collaborate with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and will consult with the Mayo Clinic to develop “elevated processes and team member training” to clean from check-in to check-out.
Hilton CleanStay with Lysol protection, as the program will be called in North America, will be a “rigorous” system. Experts from the Mayo Clinic’s Infection Prevention and Control team will advise and assist in developing cleaning protocols.
Red Roof isn’t far behind on the branding front with its program, RediClean. Although it lacks Hilton’s partner power, it is adhering to CDC and government guidelines and best practice policies to protect guests and employees.
And cleaning companies are reaching out for retail partners. For example, Northeast clothing retailer Mixology announced that it has selected ViaClean Technologies to disinfect and protect its retail locations.
“Mixology Clothing Company is dedicated to ensuring our patrons and staff feel safe and protected during these unprecedented times,” said Jordan Edwards, CEO of Mixology Clothing Company. “Starting today, we have applied the BIOPROTECTUs System to all interiors and surfaces, including dressing rooms, registers, doors, countertops, hangers, shelving, windows and more, in our 10 Tri-State area locations in advance of reopening, and we look forward to continuing the treatment thereafter to prevent the spread of germs.”
Although many of its members include retailers similar to TJ Maxx, the NRF has been an advocate for cleanliness over quick profit. Even before consumers walk into the store, they say it’s critical to build trust in terms of safety, cleanliness and maintenance.
“It’s all about letting consumers know before they come in the store what to expect once they’re inside of the store,” the NRF said. Whether it’s showing them how to keep a proper distance while standing in line or providing updates on a safer checkout process, it’s incumbent on retailers to clarify changes or new rules.
Sephora has been among the most careful and proactive companies as their stores start to reopen. The beauty retailer will put tester products out for display only, continue social distancing practices, perform deep cleaning of each store and require all employees to wear face masks.
Every national brand has a rollout plan that prioritizes different parts of the country while factoring in local restrictions, explained Venkatesh Shankar, director of research at the center for retailing studies at Texas A&M University.
“These retailers are also learning how to practice social distancing. How to make sure employees are safe. How to instill confidence in the customers when they come,” Shankar said in a news report. “If you show that you are really clean, really safe and really professional about it, then the shoppers are inspired, they have the confidence, they come back.”