Changing for good

Rob Chester, UK Managing Director at NSF International, says that retailers must adapt to keep customers safe from COVID-19.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted retail to an extent never experienced before. After months of enforced closures for ‘non-essential’ retail, the industry is in a crucial recovery period, but evidence suggests it will not be an overnight recovery.

In Central London and other large UK cities, retail footfall is up to 75% lower than the same period last year. In addition, a YouGov poll found that half of Britons would now feel uncomfortable visiting an enclosed retail space, which highlights the work that must be done by retailers to win over their customer base once more.

It’s imperative that thorough hygiene and cleaning protocols are at the heart of retailers’ response to COVID-19. Inadequate measures could quickly force retailers to close again – in some cases, permanently. As the UK slips into recession, and news reports of high street closures abound, the retail sector cannot afford to put a foot wrong.

New protocols and adapting

Retail establishments must ramp up their cleaning methods to build consumer confidence and keep customers safer. This means making hand sanitisers readily available, establishing a rigorous schedule of cleaning public areas and only using specialised, approved biocidal cleaning products for wiping surfaces.

Shops also need a better understanding of how infection is transmitted in order to establish appropriate infrastructure which protects employees and customers alike. They need to adapt rapidly, for example by installing adequate ventilation that ensures appropriate exchange of air rather than its ‘recirculation’. Barriers, meanwhile, may enhance consumer confidence but in practice they serve as a collection point for virus particles.

Taken in isolation, neither of these measures provides a solution. Together, combined with good hand hygiene, they can make a big difference. Masks, now mandatory in all indoor retail environments, also add another layer of protection.

64 | RETAIL AND DAYTIME CLEANING The value of independent assessment

It’s evident that shoppers are tentative about the return to brick and mortar stores so, once you’ve done all the hard work, how do you provide reassurance to your customers? After all, no business is going to advertise the fact that they have cut corners, but there’s a big difference between improvised self-assessment and the thorough, comprehensive approach overseen by science- based, independent, third-party organisations such as NSF International.

Having your processes and implementation of these processes validated by an independent third party builds confidence amongst customers – and at this time, consumers need to know that businesses are taking the COVID-19 challenge seriously.

Words are not enough. When people return to these establishments, they expect to see physical differences. They want to see clear evidence of the new steps that you are taking on cleanliness and hygiene. Making a good first impression will grow trust and bring more customers in through the door.

Public awareness of hygiene has been transformed by COVID-19. Business as usual – as we used to know it – is no longer an option. Staff need to be trained on an ongoing basis, while hygiene protocols need to be followed and reinforced. Tackling the risks posed by pandemics cannot be achieved all at once; it’s a lifelong business commitment.

As with the wider public, this is brand new territory for most businesses. That is where the practical support of an independent specialist with deep scientific expertise not only strengthens consumer confidence – it will give companies the peace of mind that they are doing everything that they can.

If there is one piece of advice every company in the retail sector should heed it’s: if in doubt, follow the science. (

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