Discussing cleanliness and safety isn’t always easy for retailers.
Much of their hard work happens behind the scenes in ways that aren’t apparent to consumers, and there has never been a simple and effective way to communicate brand standards.
This was apparent over the past year as retailers worked to maintain brand trust during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, it seemed the only options were to tape lengthy statements to the store walls or post detailed policies on their websites. This was unfortunately insufficient for three reasons.
First, consumers are unlikely to fully engage with that content. Corporate statements often struggle to stand out, and websites may fail to drive high volumes of traffic if they lack an active eCommerce component or other relevant functionality. Second, this strategy doesn’t help consumers identify and understand meaningful differences between brands. Third—and perhaps most important—consumers have grown accustomed to every brand saying they’re the best. If everyone says they’re doing the right things, how do you truly know?
The Benefits of Third-Party Verification
We live in a world where every cup of coffee is the best, every sandwich has the freshest ingredients, and every company has the highest standards for customer service. We also know that not everyone is telling the truth. That’s why we turn to written reviews, consumer reports, and credible organizations that investigate and independently verify claims.
We’re primed to understand how third-party certification works. We encounter it in many aspects of our lives, and we know that claims about products and services are more meaningful when they’re analyzed, and verified, by credible organizations that don’t have a direct financial stake in the business outcomes.
Until recently, no third-party certification had existed for convenience retailers’ cleanliness and safety standards. But it was necessary since this industry faces a unique hurdle that isn’t shared by its cross-channel competitors.
Overcoming the “Dirty Gas Station” Stigma
At a time when convenience retailers are tasked with transitioning away from a fuel-forward business model, the channel continues to be hindered by the “dirty gas station” stigma.
Back in 2013, the “Playbook for Success” from NACS and the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council stated plainly that on one key item—the need for a clean, safe environment—research shows that convenience stores perform more poorly than other channels. The stores that don’t keep up with consumer expectations also create a “guilt by association” problem for everyone else.
More recently, data from companies such as GasBuddy has shown that stores with above-average ratings of the customer experience drive more visits than those which generate below-average sentiment. The message is simple: when customers have quality options, they tend to avoid the dirty, dangerous, and unexceptional.
But the challenge of this stigma still persists.
Even though many retailers have made large investments in modern facilities and operations, some of their competitors may take a different approach. This means that best-in-class operators have to work extra hard to communicate that they’re different. It’s especially important as top brands seek to build differentiated foodservice offers. No foodservice program will live up to its potential if it’s not perceived as being located inside a safe and clean environment.
The Benefits of Safe Shop Assured™
It’s for these reasons that the Safe Shop Assured™ certification program was created.
Backed by the industry expertise of Paragon Solutions and WTWH Media—and informed by a group of suppliers, retailers, and industry experts—Safe Shop established a 10-point checklist of essential safety and cleanliness standards. Retailers who satisfy these standards are eligible to earn Safe Shop Assured™ certification and integrate it into their marketing and communication channels.
The benefits are twofold. First, it’s a simple and intuitive way for customers to quickly identify retailers as meeting their standards on important issues. Second, retailers gain opportunities to communicate both on-site at each store and more broadly through digital channels.
The Safe Shop team works with each retailer to determine which signs and decals are appropriate for their locations. Effective communication may require small decals on fuel pumps, the front door, or even a sign near the restrooms. The point is to highlight the certification and allow customers to scan a QR code if they wish to learn more.
Beyond the store, the Safe Shop team helps retailers identify ways to integrate the message into their social media feeds, paid marketing channels, and more.
The core benefit is additional brand trust. Safe Shop’s partners include best-in-class brands that have served their communities for many decades, and each brand’s image is enhanced through certification by a third-party. Safe Shop also works with exceptional single-store operators.
But Safe Shop is not a participation trophy, and it is not available to just anyone. Brands who do not meet Safe Shop’s standards will not qualify for approval. Moreover, ongoing inspections ensure that all partners uphold the program’s integrity.
Shifting to a Post-Pandemic Marketplace
Safe Shop was designed to speak to broader concerns than just the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers who do the right things deserve the credibility of third-party certification, and consumers deserve to know which brands uphold high standards for safety.
The quickest way to get started is to visit www.safeshopassured.com or click here to schedule an introductory conversation. You can also follow the Safe Shop page on LinkedIn or view a tour of FriendShip Kitchen by clicking here.