— By David Vigil —
Embracing consumer demand for a new standard of safety and hygiene.
Retail and restaurant leaders understand the importance of customer service, but amidst the events of the past 12 months, a greater focus has been placed on safety and hygiene — especially as more consumers begin to venture out of their bubble, governors across the country begin easing restrictions, and the vaccine becomes more accessible.
To rebuild confidence internally with employees, and externally with customers, facilities must establish protocols that sufficiently address pandemic-related safety concerns, including social distancing, sanitizing and mask wearing. More importantly, organizations must maintain these protocols day-in and day-out as part of their daily operations.
Beyond basic cleanliness and sanitation, facilities can utilize their safety and hygiene programs to attract new business, maintain customer and employee confidence, ensure compliance and build loyalty.
Consumers are Demanding a New Standard of Safety & Hygiene
As some restaurants reopen, and capacity restrictions are relaxed, industry management remains hyper-focused on how to rebuild consumer confidence and safely get them back into their businesses. Rebuilding consumer trust will take time and requires continued assurance through consistent health and safety protocols.
In fact, we conducted a national consumer survey of more than 1,500 consumers from January 2021 and found that consumers are still very cognizant about safety and hygiene standards, finding these to be fundamental factors when considering which establishments to visit. This survey was a second set, with the first set from July 2020 indicating similar results — underscoring the fact that consumer demand for safety and hygiene is still significant, even after the height of COVID-19.
Key findings of the January 2021 results include:
- 80% believe it is important that businesses take additional safety and hygiene precautions (same as July 2020).
- 66% are concerned about resuming normal activities like going to restaurants, schools, office buildings and airports (68% in July 2020).
- 67% would consider switching to a different brand that has been endorsed by a third-party safety and hygiene provider (70% would in July 2020).
- 74% believe it is important for businesses to have a third-party audit to ensure compliance of safety protocols (same as July 2020).
So, how can retail and restaurant leaders embrace the consumer demand for a new standard of safety and hygiene? Let’s take a look at an example.
Macerich Establishes Top-Notch Hygiene & Safety Protocols
Non-essential retail stores and restaurants were hit especially hard by the pandemic and forced to face ever-evolving safety and hygiene mandates, on top of standard regulations. Take for example Macerich, one of the nation’s leading owners, operators and developers of one-of-a-kind retail properties and shopping centers.
Macerich worked with us to put protocols in place and demonstrate that its facilities and shopping centers met stringent requirements to minimize the onsite risk of virus spread by adhering to best-in-class hygiene and safety standards, achieving our SafeGuard Label. This includes intensified cleaning and sanitizing; the use of electrostatic sprayers; providing masks at all properties as needed; requiring mask-wearing at all properties in compliance with state and local requirements; social distance queuing; path of travel for security and deliveries, and furniture placement per industry best practices and CDC recommendations. They also added enhanced, high-quality HVAC systems with hospital-grade filtration to help reduce airborne contaminants.
Managing Compliance: Steps to Take
There are several essential steps to achieving the SafeGuard Label and cultivating a sense of compliance and confidence. First, to ensure safety and compliance, facilities should build a detailed hygiene guide for the prevention of COVID-19 risk and other viruses in the facility. Once the protocols are established, leaders must train employees to ensure that they can maintain these protocols day-in and day-out. After all, without consistency and control, it simply won’t be enough.
Compliance of this nature, and with such high stakes, requires third-party testing, inspection and certification — especially when managing multiple locations. Beyond the initial implementation, protocol maintenance and business continuity become a very important part of the equation. Tactics like “mystery shoppers,” or undercover auditors, can help identify any potential gaps and work with the restaurant or retailer to strengthen the program.
Lastly, displaying third-party certifications helps educate customers on the demonstrated safety and hygiene programs in place, offering peace of mind and encouraging them to frequent the establishment.
Sanitation & Cleaning Business Continuity Planning
The pandemic has permanently altered our perceptions around the spread of viruses and safe environments. Given this, we believe the new lens of safety and hygiene is here to stay for shoppers and diners for years to come. Leaders can embrace this consumer demand by providing clear, certified safety programs and protocols. It’s not just checking off a box and going through the motions; testing, safety and hygiene require consistency and prioritization by staff every day, at every touch point.
Leaders that set up protocols, paired with third-party testing and follow-up auditing, are showing their employees and customers that their health and safety remains a top business priority — a key factor in the survival and success of a retail or restaurant establishment.
— David Vigil is managing director of Bureau Veritas North America, a world leader in laboratory testing, inspection and certification services.