The Retail Cleaning Challenge

Retail centres are open for business, but shop owners need to provide a positive experience for wary customers and convince them their premises are safe. Essity looks at the cleaning and hygiene challenges facing retail stores.

There was good news for the retail sector this summer. The reopening of non-essential shops in April led to a springtime bounce-back as customers clamoured to begin buying again.

Retail sales were up by 28.4% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with the same period in 2020. The figure was also up 10.4% on 2019 – before the pandemic even began. In fact, the 2021 figures were the best ever recorded for the April-June period according to a BRC-KPMG retail sales report, released in July.

Meanwhile, research published in the same month revealed that 52% of UK customers were excited to return to the actual shops after more than a year spent shopping online. According to the study by HubSpot, only 22% of shoppers planned to continue making the majority of their purchases via the internet. 46% of UK consumers also said they now planned to spend more money each month in order to be able to see people face to face and make up for lost time.

So, the overall picture is optimistic, but the situation remains precarious and many people are still wary of venturing into crowded spaces. According to the HubSpot report, 59% of shoppers are now more cautious about physical touch when returning to stores, while 49% feel uncomfortable in groups of more than seven.

Customers are conflicted. While they yearn for the retail experience they once knew, they are also nervous about picking up COVID-19 in a crowded shopping centre. For this reason, retail centres are having their work cut out to make their premises more attractive to punters.

They are achieving this in various ways. For example, Selfridges in London now features a cinema, skate bowl – and even spin classes. The store has partnered up with SoulCycle and is currently running daily classes outside its Oxford Street store.

Meanwhile, the Nike shop in New York’s SoHo area has installed a basketball court with adjustable hoops plus digital video screens that allow customers to try out equipment before they buy. Back in Oxford Street, Sports Direct has incorporated a FIFA video gaming area in its flagship store along with holograms of its latest trainers and a virtual selfie mirror, where customers can photograph themselves in the strips of their favourite teams.

However, these types of innovations are unlikely to entice everyone back to the shops this autumn. The retail sector will also need to convince cautious customers that their premises are safe.


The relaxation of COVID-19 safety rules in July has led to some shoppers flinging aside their face masks and abandoning any attempt at social distancing. However, this has made the wary more reluctant to return than ever, so retail centres now have to work even harder to be ‘seen to be clean’.

The sight of staff members continually sanitising lift buttons, escalator rails and other frequently-touched surfaces will all help to boost confidence among warier customers. Hand hygiene will also become more important as an extra safeguard against infection, which means hand sanitisers will continue to be provided throughout most retail premises.

A higher spend in the shops is of course linked to footfall – which is why attractions such as basketball courts and spin classes are being introduced to induce customers linger for longer. Similarly, cafes and food courts form an important part of the overall shopping experience because they allow customers to break off from browsing to enjoy a welcome coffee or a bite to eat.

However, the longer people remain in a shopping centre, the more likely they are to visit the toilets at some point. Using the washrooms is to be encouraged because this is where hand washing takes place.

Hand hygiene is vital in reducing the risk of cross- contamination before and after activities such as eating, trying on clothes, playing video games and taking exercise classes. Cautious customers will be conflicted, though. While they are keen to wash their hands, they will be reluctant to visit the washroom if it’s crowded, messy or unhygienic or where the supply of soap, toilet paper or hand towels has run out. Extra care should be taken to ensure that the washrooms are kept clean and well stocked at all times.

This can be achieved with the aid of high-capacity systems and digital technology. Smart systems that allow dispensers to be checked remotely such as Tork Vision Cleaning enable staff to monitor washroom visitor numbers and be aware of when dispensers are running low. The ‘connected’ dispensers in Tork Vision Cleaning allow staff

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