Marketing Customer Safety in a COVID-19 World

Posted by Scott Heinzeroth

July 7, 2020 at 11:45 AM

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Would you shop at a retail store that didn’t implement some sort of safety measures to protect its customers from Covid-19? Do you notice when someone inside the store is improperly wearing a face mask (or not at all)? Do you look for the hand sanitizer station when you walk in or perhaps note if there are “Social-Distancing” floor stickers at checkout?

A recent survey of 2000 Americans by global market research company Ipsos showed that up to 62 percent would avoid shopping at a store if they saw that it was not implementing the “new norm” of social-distancing practices. Key findings were that when deciding to return to stores, consumers considered certain health and safety practices more crucial than others. These included the consistent use of face coverings, limiting the number of customers instore, 6-foot social distancing markers at point-of-sale, employees visibly disinfecting high-traffic areas, and plexiglass dividers at checkout.

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Consumer-Preferred Safety Measures by Retailers

  1. Face coverings for employees and shoppers
  2. Limiting number of customers in store
  3. 6-ft. social distancing markers
  4. Employees visibly disinfecting high-traffics areas and shopping carts
  5. Plexiglass dividers at checkout

The Ipsos survey also uncovered several gaps between these consumer expectations and what was actually observed at the stores:

  • Employees at 25% of the stores visited in the Index wore face coverings improperly or not at all inside the store.
  • Employees at 51% of stores visited were not wearing gloves inside the stores.
  • 77% of the stores visited did not provide any hand sanitizing or hand washing solution inside the entrance.
  • 82% of the stores visited did not provide any hand sanitizing or hand washing solution at checkout.
  • 64% of the stores visited had no staff actively cleaning interior high traffic areas, such as carts/baskets, counters, credit card readers, doors, and demos.
  • 31% of the stores visited did not have plexiglass dividers at checkout.
  • 58% of the stores visited were not observed to be managing the number of customers entering stores.

In our Northern Illinois location, we notice that most retailers are following most of these safety measures. Among noteworthy examples is Menards, a home improvement chain we visit frequently as developers of packaging and merchandising programs used in the stores by our clients. Menards' stores here are all using floor stickers to encourage social distancing, offering hand sanitizer on stands and being vigilant with their disinfecting of carts and other surfaces. Menards is doing a particularly commendable job, going even further with precautions.

When you walk into the store you are greeted by a security guard who stands right in front of two HUGE signs outlining the strict safety protocols they have implemented. Right after you enter, the security guard does a quick visual check that you are wearing a mask.

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Personal Observations

Is all of this just for show? Not at all, as I can personally attest. I was curious to know if the Menards security personnel would actually follow through. So, before I walked in recently, I pulled my mask down so that my nose was exposed but the rest of my face was covered. Before I had gotten 5 feet through the doors, the guard said firmly: “Sir, please pull your mask up over your nose before heading in.” At first, I thought that many shoppers would consider this to be a somewhat invasive. But over the last few months I think most of us have become used to it. It’s the new norm and studies show that retailers will lose business during this pandemic if safety measures are not consistently enforced.

For brand marketers in the hardware/home improvement channel at least, we can expect these restrictions to be in place for several more months, possibly more than a year as reported in a retailer survey by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA). Despite the challenges, sales in independent hardware stores amid Covid-19 are up more than 17% compared to the same period last year. Also reported in that NRHA survey: 2/3 of retailers said that curbside pickup is here to stay for their operations.

Much is said about online sales and the role of digital marketing of course. But in-store sales continue to be vital as well for most product categories. It is called omni-channel marketing for a reason.

Contact Heinzeroth Marketing Group to help maintain a strong focus on your total customer experience.

Topics: Consumer Retail, Home Improvement, Home Improvement Channel