Scientists all over the world are scrambling to expedite vaccine trials, launch antiviral drugs, and create new diagnostic tests to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s another assailant threatening to disrupt global society, and especially food retail. The name of that enemy isn’t coronavirus. It’s fear.
If you are a food retailer, you might think that your No. 1 priority right now should be e-commerce or supply chain efficiency. While those certainly are important operational challenges to address, the most critical challenge in food retail today might just be finding a way to keep shoppers from being terrified of your store.
According to a new report from C+R Research, a Chicago-based market insights firm, 60% of American consumers are now too scared — yes, scared — to shop at a grocery store due to the coronavirus. C+R Research recently surveyed more than 2,000 consumers to find out how the pandemic has changed their grocery shopping habits. More than 60% of consumers feel a sense of panic or anxiety about germs when they shop at a grocery store, and around 45% said that they disinfect their groceries when they bring them home. Even more concerning, a big chunk of respondents (73%) said that they’re shopping less in physical stores than ever before, and more than one-third of shoppers said that they think food retailers should be doing more to protect consumers and employees from COVID-19.
Of course, some of this fear can be explained by the grim headlines flooding shoppers’ TVs, computers, and cellphones, many of which are painting food retailers in a negative light when it comes to storing safety and cleanliness. In Denver, for example, local news reported that a Walmart was forced to close after three COVID19-infected employees died. In response, Walmart issued a statement saying that it would implement “a deep cleaning and disinfection of the entire store,” giving shoppers the impression that the store wasn’t actually clean before the deaths.
- Especially at a time of heightened concern about public health, a nightly deep clean is not enough.
- Grocers need to aggressively clean high-touch surfaces all day long.
- UV lights, foggers, EPA-approved virus killers and robots are retailers’ new friends.
At least six Trader Joe’s stores have shut down temporarily for “precautionary cleaning and sanitization” after workers there were found to be infected. Meanwhile, workers at Safeway and Kroger stores around the country have died from COVID-19 as well, prompting more announcements about “enhanced sanitation” procedures.
The pandemic has shattered consumer confidence in the safety of grocery shopping, and for shoppers, the fear is all about sanitation and staying virus-free. While cleanliness has always been critical in food retail, the need to clean, sanitize and manage safety will never be as important as it is now, while this pandemic endures. Not only will retail sanitation measures need to be robust, but they’ll also need to be more effectively communicated for shoppers to maintain trust in the retailer.
“Just like our security measures changed forever after Sept. 11th, it is likely that cleaning expectations will not return to how things were,” asserts Bryan Smith, senior marketing manager for the Americas at Minneapolis-based Tennant Co., which manufactures retail cleaning equipment. “Customers are going to have higher standards when it comes to cleanliness. As a result, retailers are going to have to find new ways to meet this customer demand in an efficient and effective way.”
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