Dirty Floors and Retail Basics

While there has been a tendency to paint e-commerce as the thorn in the side of traditional retail, a  recent article in Forbes – Cleanup in Aisle 5? – suggests there are some more fundamental problems at play for the brick & mortar crowd.

As reporter Joan Verdon notes, a study from facilities management platform ServiceChannel has found that retailers who neglect store basics in an effort to cut costs are hastening their own demise…

“In a survey of 1521 consumers, 70% customers said they recently have had a negative experience with a messy store, ranging from dirty bathrooms and broken toilets, to disorganized shelves and burned out light bulbs.”

In an age where competition in the retail sector is at an all-time high, the fact that “over two-thirds of customers said they have walked out of stores because they were messy or disorganized” feels like a shocking statistic.

It seems obvious on paper.  If you’re not unable (or unwilling) to uphold basic hygiene standards, you’re not going to be able to count on repeat visits from your customers. So why is it that so many businesses are cutting back on store maintenance and investment in basic improvements?

Partly the approach might be explained away as an attempt to find a quick fix to a more difficult problem.  With rising costs and lagging sales, store maintenance – “a non-sexy part of the business” – can be one of the first things to suffer.  While a new breed of retailers who understand the importance of providing a consistently excellent (emphasis on ‘consistently’) experience have emerged, there remains a worrying trend to expect customers to reward lacklustre standards with continued loyalty.

Another issue lies in the outdated relationship that often still exists between consumer and business.  Many existing survey methodologies deliver poor response rates, providing little visibility into actual on-site conditions and the fundamentals that impact sales.  While a single store manager may be able to see the floor is a mess, from an operational perspective, it can be difficult for companies to measure and stay on top of such issues business-wide.  If customers are walking out because of poor conditions without telling you – clearly there’s a problem. 

While boardrooms may be under pressure to make cuts, failing to invest in basic fundamentals such as cleanliness is head in the sand behaviour. With four out of five shoppers saying they would “rather have a clean store than ones with the newest tech”, and two-thirds saying “retailers are forgetting the basics… in the rush to add tech”, it seems that for some, a back to basics crash course, may be required before it’s too late.



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