Before the coronavirus pandemic, many customers selected where to shop for groceries based on a store's location, product prices and food selection. These days, however, more and more consumers are also taking stock of what stores are doing to protect shoppers and workers from COVID-19.
In the newly released Consumer Health & Safety Index, marketing research company Ipsos Group compared the safety measures grocery chains across the company have adapted during the pandemic. The findings revealed that Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s have made the most positive impressions on customers with the changes they've implemented.
Ipsos group began by surveying 2,000 Americans during the first week of May about the retail safety measures that were most important to them considering the dangers of coronavirus. Between May 8 and May 20, they conducted thousands of "mystery shops" (people paid by Ipsos posed as regular customers to generate reports) across the country to see what 45 major U.S. brands in seven industries have done to keep shoppers healthy.
Protective safety measures such as social distancing markers, company-issued face coverings, customer limits in stores and frequent cleaning of surfaces were among the biggest priorities for most shoppers these days. The survey revealed that 62% of customers would stop shopping at a particular store if they didn't think the company was taking health and safety matters seriously.
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A few of the nation's most popular retailers stood out from the crowd when it came to in-store safety. Ipsos Group called Whole Foods (which came in first place) the "health and safety all-star" in the survey.
At the Whole Foods stores visited, 98% of employees wore face coverings inside and 91% of customers observed a distance of six feet between others while shopping. The retailer had also installed plexiglass barriers at the checkout areas in 95% of stores, while contactless payment was available in 87% of stores visited.
The No. 2 spot went to Costco where 83% of employees were seen wearing face coverings outside and 95% of employees wore them properly inside. Also notable? Social-distancing markers were available in 94% of Costco stores.
Trader Joe's earned the No. 3 spot for its "consistency and attention to the most important health and safety factors to consumers." At 94% of Trader Joe's stores visited, employees were seen actively managing the number of customers entering and exiting.
Despite these positive marks for the top three stores, survey results revealed that many stores still aren't meeting customer expectations. For example, employees at 25% of stores visited during the mystery shops were either wearing face coverings incorrectly or not wearing them at all. A larger group (51%) weren't wearing gloves and 31% of stores didn't have plexiglass dividers at their checkout aisles.
Of the stores visited, 58% did not appear to be actively limiting the number of customers allowed inside and 64% didn't have staff regularly cleaning high-traffic items or areas, such as carts and baskets, counters, credit card readers and doors handles.
The Ipsos Group also found that only 47% of retailers visited regularly cleaned high-touch exterior areas and 77% of the stores visited did not provide any hand sanitizing or hand washing solution at their entrances.
In the months to come, these safety measures will continue to influence consumer decisions, according to Nick Mercurio, executive vice president and head of U.S. channel performance at Ipsos.
“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," Mercurio said.