Reinventing Grocery: Cleanliness is Sales

This week’s blog post is the first in a series taken from our webinar and eBook, Reinventing Grocery | The Timeline to the New Normal. To read the second and third parts of the series in Reinventing Grocery: The Timeline to the New Normal, please click here and look for the posts titled “Reinventing Grocery.”

Cleanliness has jumped to a top-of-mind concern for grocers following the coronavirus pandemic. At this time in 2019, customers were primarily searching for “grocery coupons” online, where in 2020, customers are now searching for “cleaning groceries” and other terms associated with clean grocery stores nearly as much as “grocery coupons,” even surpassing it in searches on March 29th 2020.

Moving forward, we expect an interest in cleaning groceries, concern over store cleanliness, and clean exchange practices to be the new normal. In such a short period of time, grocers have done an incredible job adapting to these clean changes and initiatives. Grocers around the world have already responded to the call for cleanliness and letting customers stay socially distant – implementing sneeze guards, limiting the number of customers within a store, creating one-way aisles, and in some cases even investing in robotic cleaning tools to lessen the number of humans in their stores.

In the next three to six months, grocers are going to have to come up with a plan for addressing the permanence of these industry changes. Will PPE be a mandated requirement for shoppers and employees? Will sneeze guards become a permanent fixture in the check out process? Will floor signs and one-way aisles redefine and redesign the flow of the shopping process?

If they are, then other decisions need to be made in order to satisfy the presence of these new implementations. How will you keep an image of a clean and fresh store when a sneeze guard is scratched after being up for six months or floor signage has started to fray? Infrastructure and labor resource decisions need to be considered in order to maintain the quality of these new clean initiatives in your store.

When we look at the new cleanliness trend and compare it to grocery industry trends before coronavirus, a point of reference we use is the annual Dunnhumby Retailer Preference Index.

In 2019, their year end report studied 57 different regional and national grocers and compiled their results into the following seven categories:

• Perceived Prices – are they lower than the competition?

• Quality – a clean store, being able to find the right products and interacting
with helpful employees

• Digital – simple and easy ways to shop online

• Operations – maintenance of out-of-stocks and price consistency

• Convenience – location of store and one-stop-shopability

• Discounts & Rewards

• Speed – the ability to get in and out of the store quickly

Time and again the most important factor in grocer retailer preference is price, not always necessarily because prices are lower than other retailers, but that price is consistent
and fair. The second category, Quality, has been on the rise and is now expected to surpass price as shoppers become more concerned with the cleanliness of stores.

As we move forward past the height of coronavirus, it is vital to keep tabs on the new in-store cleanliness initiatives that we referenced earlier. It’s not always about the actual integrity of cleanliness and safety, but the customer’s perception of cleanliness and safety in your store and how they associate the reputation of your store with those clean initiatives.

Sneeze guards, masks, and other types of visual cues to highlight “safety & cleanliness” are only as good as they appear. A dirty sneeze guard is probably worse than not having one at all. Similarly, having 99% of your staff wear a face mask but 1% choosing to go without leaves a concern in the shoppers mind that your store is not taking cleanliness initiatives seriously.

Moving forward to the end of 2020 into 2021 and beyond, we also need to look at what the news is telling us as experts predict a potential third wave of the virus to be introduced in the fall.

The social interaction that we’re all used to in the grocery store provides a sense of community. Shoppers interacting with employees and other community members created a bit of a neighborly social hour, and unfortunately, those interactions won’t be coming back quickly.

Even as coronavirus cases start to fall and lessen, the second nature value of staying six feet apart from one another is going to be in the back of shoppers minds. Grocers need to understand and be comfortable with taking a step-by-step approach with things like in-store events and community engagement efforts since they won’t be something that will be able to quickly start up again once stay-at-home orders are lifted.

It’s clear that grocers who were implementing digital advancements in their stores are benefiting from current industry trends and are able to take advantage of the current situation more than grocers who don’t have digital initiatives in place.

For example, a lot of grocers that operate pharmacies are able to send a text message to tell you that you need to refill a prescription or vice versa, eliminating any in-person interaction to get that prescription along the entire need to receive timeline. As grocers think about the new normal of in-store interactions, they need to also consider making advancements in technologies that allow shoppers to experience the same level of self service in other departments like deli and seafood.

Grocers can also take a page out of Alaska Airlines book in terms of how to maintain a clean reputation even in a time of crisis. Though the travel industry is experiencing significant downturns, Alaska Airlines and Delta have gotten out in front with their clean reputation message, reassuring the public that they’re the clean choice for air travel moving forward. While it may or may not be true, Alaska Airlines was the first to plant a flag here. Who will be doing the same in the grocery industry – on a regional or very local level?

Consider Metcalfe’s Market – a small grocery chain based in Madison, WI – who has managed to capture the local news cycle by continuously publishing press releases & making updates related to cleanliness & safety. When you search for their name on Google you see not only their different safety efforts, but small business initiatives like buying a $25 gift card to a local restaurant and getting $20 off of your next $100 purchase in stores. These extra efforts that they’re doing to support local businesses are making current and potential customers remember them as community initiative leaders which will benefit Metcalfe’s for years to come.

While there are many different “right” ways to approach cleanliness in your store, the ultimate “wrong” way is to not implement clean initiatives at all.