Whole Foods Market, Costco Wholesale and Trader Joe’s ranked as the top three retailers in coronavirus health and safety practices, according to a new study by global research firm Ipsos.
The Ipsos Consumer Health & Safety Index, launched Wednesday, benchmarks COVID-19 health and safety at retailers across seven industries. The two-pronged study first polled 2,000 Americans to find out which retail health and safety measures they consider most important during the pandemic. Next, Ipsos conducted thousands of “mystery shops” at stores across 45 major U.S. brands to gauge retailer compliance with the health and safety attributes cited by consumers. A random sample of 125 locations per brand were visited, Ipsos said.
U.S. shoppers surveyed by Ipsos cited consistent use of company-issued face coverings, customer capacity limits in stores, six-foot social distancing markers at checkout, employees visibly wiping down high-traffic areas, and plexiglass dividers at checkout stations as the most critical COVID-19 health and safety practices by retailers.
“We found that 62% of shoppers would stop shopping at a retailer not taking health and safety seriously,” Nick Mercurio, executive vice president and service line head of U.S. channel performance at Washington, D.C.-based Ipsos, said in a statement.
Amazon-owned Whole Foods was the top-performing retailer in the Consumer Health & Safety Index. Ipsos said Whole Foods exhibited “near universal compliance” in facial coverings, with associates wearing face masks in 98% of the stores visited. The Austin, Texas-based specialty grocer also showed high compliance with six-foot social distancing boundaries in customer interactions (91% of stores), plexiglass barriers at checkout (95%) and contactless payment (87%).
Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco came in as the No. 2 retailer on the index. Workers at 83% of Costco warehouse clubs visited wore face coverings properly outside the store, and employees at 95% of the stores visited wore face coverings properly inside the store, Ipsos reported. In addition, 94% of the clubs examined had deployed physical distancing markers.
The No. 3 finisher, Trader Joe’s, also demonstrated strong consistency and attention to shoppers’ top coronavirus health and safety concerns. Ipsos noted its research revealed that consumers now heavily weigh active monitoring of store traffic and customer occupancy, and Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s “far surpasses” all the other grocery retailers in that benchmark, with 94% of stores visited actively managing shopper capacity at the entrance.
Grocery retailers, in particular, have "exerted the most consistent and visible efforts in implementing health and safety standards," followed by big-box and drug stores, according to Ipsos. Of all 45 retail brands measured in the Index, grocery and big-box brands were 13 of the top 15 brands in terms of compliance to health and safety standards, and grocery brands represented three of the top five.
Forty-seven percent of grocery stores visited were observed consistently cleaning high-touch exterior areas, compared with the cross-industry average of 16%. Similarly, 64% of grocery stores examined were seen actively managing the number of shoppers entering the stores versus the cross-industry average of 42%.
Big-box stores performed better at cleaning interior locations (51% of locations visited) than any sector besides grocery, Ipsos said. Mass merchants, too, came in just behind grocery and drug stores in providing plexiglass shields at checkout (83% of stores visited). Drugstores excelled at providing protective barriers at checkout (92% of locations examined) and were at parity with the grocery industry, the study found. Eighty-nine percent of drugstores also provided interior signs reminding customers to maintain social distancing, on par with the grocery industry’s 90% compliance rate.
Still, Ipsos pointed out that retailers overall have much room for improvement in COVID-19 health and safety, as the study found key gaps between consumer expectations and actual practices at stores.
Associates at 25% of the stores visited, for example, wore face coverings improperly or not at all inside the store. An even higher percentage of employees (51%) also weren’t wearing gloves inside the stores.
In terms of extra cleaning measures, 77% of the stores visited didn’t provide hand sanitizer or hand-washing solution inside the entrance, while 82% of the stores studied didn’t do so at checkout, Ipsos reported. Meanwhile, 64% of the stores examined had no staff actively cleaning interior high-traffic areas, such as shopping carts and baskets, counters, credit card readers, doors and demo stations.
Shortfalls also were found in social distancing. For instance, Ipsos said, 31% of the stores visited had no plexiglass windows at checkout, and 58% of stores weren’t observed as managing the number of customers entering.
“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,” according to Mercurio. “Ensuring protections are in place to keep consumers safe, healthy and loyal in the ‘six-foot economy’ is the primary driver that inspired our inaugural Consumer Health & Safety Index,” he added.
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