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We’ve all witnessed the pandemic’s devastating effects on retail shopping and the significant downturn in customer foot traffic in-store, but experts now point to a major shift in customer behavior.
Recent figures, including the consumer stats we’re always monitoring at TrueSource, show that customers are returning to brick-and-mortar locations — some experts even forecast a record sales year for brick-and-mortar locations of certain retail segments. Whether it’s the result of extended home-bound isolation, boredom or some other cause, we can now see that there’s a clear opportunity for smart retailers willing to capitalize on the moment.
It’s simple. If you provide a desirable, pleasant, convenient in-person shopping experience, more and more of your absent customers will return. Perhaps more than ever before.
And while many companies are investing millions in high-tech additions to their stores (e.g., digital signage and even augmented reality experiences), there’s an incredibly basic action that far too many fail to consistently and thoroughly take. It’s actually shocking to see how many store managers neglect this part of the customer experience, especially considering its weight of importance.
I’m talking about cleanliness and order. Simple as that.
Imagine … everything sparkling clean, everything in working order, everything in its place. Almost makes you smile to think about, doesn’t it? Your customers have the same reaction when they walk into your space and notice the care and attention to detail you’ve devoted to this all-important aspect of their experience.
Why Cleanliness Counts
- First impressions matter. We’ve all heard this refrain time and again — in all areas of life, there’s great power in a positive first impression. Whether it’s the customer’s first impression with your brand as a whole, or just with that particular brick-and-mortar store, that moment may be your only opportunity to make a sale and entice them into coming back. Some questionable grime in the corners of shop floors could be all it takes to make that customer turn on their heel and leave.
- Germs are top of mind. Now more than ever before, people are reporting higher awareness and concern about germs and the threat of illness. In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve all become more worried about contagious sicknesses and take more personal precautions to keep clean and sanitized. We now expect and demand the same from our in-person shopping and dining experiences.
- Cleanliness is symbolic of a bigger idea. For many in-store visitors, the level of cleanliness and order is directly correlated to and symbolic of the brand’s care for its customers. A sparkling clean floor, sweet smelling restroom and everything in working order? This creates a subconscious understanding for customers — this company really cares about my experience. Unfortunately, this phenomenon works against us as well.
- Wallets are strapped. As gas and food prices continue to rise, and a potential recession looms on the horizon, customers feel strapped for discretionary cash. That means they’re more careful with their dollars, and more discriminating in where they spend and why. Retailers must go the extra mile to get those wallets to open, and every little action helps.
- Everyone’s a reporter. In the age of social media and citizen journalism, every customer is also a reporter with instant access to a vast audience. A dirty restroom, grimy cash wrap or broken door can be quickly captured and shared with thousands, easily causing shame, embarrassment and financial damages to your company.
Still, it’s one thing to accept and understand that cleanliness and order count, it’s another to make the proper investment in truly doing it right.
Many retailers choose to delegate the task of cleaning and upkeep to their hourly staff, and in our experience this is usually a mistake. Not only does this mean that the job may be poorly and inconsistently done, it also means that employees will be less satisfied in their jobs. In stores where cleaning is a core duty of staff, employee retention is typically a major issue. And in this challenged labor market where good people are hard to come by, this approach will only create more problems than it solves.
Instead of pushing off store cleanliness to staff, we recommend empowering them to focus their time on best servicing customers and supporting store sales. When it comes to cleaning, researching and vetting some of the national and regional services that specialize in this exact function is the best starting point. There are a number of companies that devote themselves to regular deep-cleaning of commercial spaces, maintenance and general upkeep. Whether it’s handled in-house or externally, it’s important to distinguish between ongoing janitorial services and deep-cleaning. Both have their time and place in maintaining an inviting retail environment. Sometimes a one-time store refresh is a perfect way to ensure customers enter a space where they’re comfortable browsing.
And while these services come with an upfront investment, this investment ultimately pays off through increased foot traffic, improved brand reputation, increased employee retention and better word-of-mouth.
The bottom line? Cleaning and upkeep — when executed right — is the simplest, easiest path to driving more folks back into your stores.
Peter Biagioli is chief customer officer at TrueSource, an OnPoint Group Company, and the first call for retailers and property managers in need of critical facility maintenance for more than 50 years.
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