As a consumer, it’s not easy to determine a retailer’s commitment to store safety.
You want to trust that the store is cleaned, sanitized and safe. You want to know that the person scanning your snacks and beverages didn’t come to work sick — and that they have the support to stay home if they are. In short: You want to know that the retailer is serious about protecting your wellbeing.
But how do you really know? Speaking plainly, even I struggle to figure this out when I visit retailers. Sometimes you really have to hunt for this information. I’ve visited stores where the only useful information is taped to a register on an ink-jetted piece of paper. There are others who bury a few details on a corporate website. The problem is the ones who really do the right things aren’t always easy to identify.
A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in line at a convenience store where the cashier had a bad case of the sniffles and a small cough. It was kind of awkward. On one hand, I wondered if this person was sick and what it meant for my health. Maybe it’s just allergies, but maybe it’s something worse? On the other hand, I wondered if this retailer gives employees the flexibility and support to stay home if they’re not feeling well. I had no way of knowing.
Uncertainty is the real enemy here. It’s an especially serious problem in 2020, but the truth is it was always an issue — and will continue to be so long after the pandemic ends.
Nobody wakes up and says, “I want to shop somewhere that makes me feel unsafe.” Consumers have always looked for signals that speak to issues of safety and allowed them to influence their shopping behavior. I worked with location and ratings data at GasBuddy for three and a half years, finding time and again that correlations exist between consumer foot traffic and assessments of store safety. Those who provide a clean, safe shopping experience drive far higher levels of traffic than their below-average counterparts. End of story.
But consumers shouldn’t have to rely on guesswork. They need help. Imagine that retailers could obtain a third-party seal of approval if they have the right policies and procedures in place. By displaying this seal of approval on a window, a door, or even in marketing communications, they could signal that their commitment to store safety is recognized by an independent organization.
Consumers don’t even have to know the ins and outs of the certification process. Simply observing that third-party approval exists will create an instant point of distinction. The point is that they have it, and their competitors don’t. That’s a meaningful difference.
For the retailer, this would enable a different conversation about safety. It would also allow them to communicate better with current and prospective employees. Nobody wants to feel as if their workplace will jeopardize their wellbeing, and third-party certification would help them feel better about where they work.
It’s for these reasons that I’m thrilled to be part of the newly created Safe Shop certification program.
After much consultation with a diverse board of suppliers, retailers and industry experts, we established a nine-point checklist of safety measures that represent today’s table stakes. Some of these are COVID-related, given the realities of the present moment, but the checklist is intended to represent what matters with or without the pandemic.
Retailers who meet these requirements can apply for Safe Shop Assured certification. Once each measure is verified, we work with retailers to integrate Safe Shop in a way that makes sense for their brands. It can be as minimal as a sticker on a window, or as multifaceted as branded floor stickers, sanitizer stations, cleaning checklists and forecourt signage. Everyone has different needs.
Integrity of the program is of course essential. That’s why we engage in ongoing, independent verification to ensure that nobody cuts corners and undermines the value of obtaining Safe Shop Assured certification.
In the end, it’s all about helping the retailers who do the right thing. Everyone wants to feel good about where they shop. Let’s recognize the best-in-class retailers and help them stand out.
Frank Beard is the director of Safe Shop. Learn more at www.safeshopassured.com. You can also follow Frank on Twitter at @FrankBeard or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/frankbeard.