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Most consumers still wary about going to retailers because of COVID-19

Retailers have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to making stores safe for customers

Photo (c) Kiwis - Getty Images
If you’re still hesitant to visit a brick-and-mortar retailer for fear of coming in contact with someone who has COVID-19, consider yourself in the majority.

While some consumers might think it’s business as usual, the newest Consumer Health & Safety Index by global research firm Ipsos shows just the opposite -- that 61 percent of consumers are holding off visiting physical storefronts until they’re convinced the all-clear is for real.

“The ability to deliver on health and safety efforts is now the most important aspect of the customer experience, and it will be for some time”, said Nick Mercurio, executive vice president and service line head of U.S. Channel Performance at Ipsos. 

The overall takeaway

Ispos evaluated how retailers across seven industries are operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t a simple little poll, either. Ipsos Mystery Shoppers conducted in-store visits of more than 5,700 retailers across the U.S. and took a hard look at which brands are successfully implementing health and safety measures and which ones are not.

The overall takeaway is that when deciding whether or not to return to a particular store, American consumers take a hard and fast line on certain health and safety practices. 

Those practices include the constant use of company-issued face coverings, having 6-foot social distancing markers in place at checkout, employees visibly wiping down high-traffic areas, and plexiglass dividers at checkout areas. Shoppers also looked at how retailers managed the number of customers entering stores.

The glaring gaps

Ipsos uncovered several blatant mistakes between consumer expectations and what its secret shoppers actually observed inside the stores. Those include:

  • Store employees at 25 percent of the stores visited wore face coverings either improperly or not at all.

  • Employees at 51 percent of stores visited were not wearing gloves.

  • A hard-to-believe 77 percent of the stores visited failed to provide either hand sanitizing or handwashing solutions inside the entrance.

  • An even harder-to-believe 82 percent of the stores visited did not provide any hand sanitizing or handwashing solutions at the checkout counter.

  • Sixty-four percent of the stores visited had no staff actively cleaning interior high traffic areas, like shopping carts, counters, credit card readers, and doors.

  • Thirty-one percent of the stores visited did not have plexiglass dividers at the checkout stand.

  • Fifty-eight percent of the stores visited were not observed to be managing the number of customers entering stores.

The winners

While Ipsos’ study shows great room for improvement across the entire retail spectrum, there are three brands that surpassed the norm and did a great job implementing the health and safety measures of the post-pandemic world.

Taking home the first-place trophy is Whole Foods. To Ipsos evaluators, it demonstrated near-universal compliance with associates wearing face coverings inside (98 percent), respecting 6-foot boundaries in customer interactions inside (91 percent), providing plexiglass barriers at checkout (95 percent), and offering contactless payment (87 percent) at the stores visited.

Costco came in a close second. Visits to Costco stores found that employees at 83 percent of visited locations wore face coverings properly outside the store. Employees at 95 percent of the stores visited also wore face coverings properly inside the store. Costco topped Whole Foods in the social distancing department, with 94 percent of the stores visited having social distancing markers present. 

Big-box retailers like Costco performed better at cleaning interior locations (51 percent) than any industry other than grocery and lagged just behind grocery and drug stores when it came to providing barriers at checkout (83 percent).

In a respectable third place was Trader Joe’s. Ipsos’ team said the retailer had both consistency and attention toward the most important health and safety factors that consumers are looking for. Trader Joe’s far surpasses all the other grocery retailers in this area, with 94 percent of stores visited actively managing this process at the entrance.

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