Will store certifications make customers feel safer?

Photo: Cumberland Farms
Nov 06, 2020

With stores open but concerns remaining about contracting the novel coronavirus, customers are seeking assurance that retailers are taking safety seriously. An industry group hopes to give them that assurance with a new certification for retailers.

The Safe Shop Assured certification program is being informed by a board of retailers, suppliers and retail experts and is meant to establish best practices for store safety and sanitation, allowing retailers to demonstrate their adherence to them, according to CStore Decisions. (The publisher of CStore Decisions is involved with the development of the certification.)

To earn the certification, retailers will have to demonstrate that they have fulfilled a checklist of safety standards and be confirmed by an independent third party. Upon receiving the certification they will be able to display Safe Shop signage, graphics and protective equipment as they see fit.

The program is a response to the confusion both U.S. retailers and customers have experienced during the pandemic regarding appropriate safety measures and precautions. The lack of comprehensive federal guidelines in the U.S. for the management of in-store safety during the pandemic has left it to individual states, municipalities and retailers to determine the best course of action for protecting employees and customers.

Some retailers have implemented cross-chain disease prevention measures. Costco, for instance, was the first major U.S. retailer to announce a requirement that all customers wear face coverings. Its announcement came in May.

Despite variations in how measures are instituted between retailers, many stores nationwide have upped their sanitation practices and procedures.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still advises limiting in-store shopping, a recent survey indicates that adequate safety measures are letting at least some consumers feel a touch of normality.

As lockdowns eased nationwide and globally in early September, a Mood Media survey showed that 71 percent of customers felt comfortable returning to in-store shopping and 80 percent were okay with the health and safety precautions being implemented by stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see the Safe Shop Assured certification being widely adopted and will convenience stores that participate benefit? Do you see such a certification having staying power and value even after the pandemic has passed?

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"We are talking about people's lives here so, yeah, I am all for Safe Shop Assured certifications."

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17 Comments on "Will store certifications make customers feel safer?"

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Nikki Baird

It’s good marketing and worth the effort, if you look at it from a branding perspective. As far as reassuring shoppers, I doubt it will have much impact. It’s not the stores themselves that are so questionable. It’s the other shoppers.

Paula Rosenblum

*sigh*. All of this because there is no actual national policy. Retailers have taken matters into their own hands, and that is fabulous. BUT — they put themselves at risk because somehow mask wearing and social distancing has become politicized.

This has to change.

I think it would be nice if retailers continued the practice of cleaning bathrooms after the pandemic passes. Beyond that, again — retailers are subject to the whims of their customers.

Gary Sankary

Exactly right.

Shep Hyken

I like the idea of a certification. Like a grade at a restaurant, you feel safer knowing it has an A versus a B (or less). To make consumers really feel good about it, retailers must be re-certified on a regular basis and allow “mystery visits” to assure that in between routine visits they are still in compliance and earn the right to retain their certification.

Neil Saunders

This won’t harm anything and does give people information that is potentially useful, if they are concerned about safety and hygiene. It’s a bit like New York City’s ABCEats restaurant ratings, which gives some confidence to those concerned about sanitary standards.

Jeff Sward

We may be several months late in implementing this kind initiative, but let’s be thankful the vacuum left by the “lack of comprehensive federal guidelines” has been filled. Customers need every assurance that safe shopping is available at the time when shopper density is about to peak.

Georganne Bender

This is a great idea. Restaurants have health inspections, and we are talking about health here, so why not stores? Being a certified safe store will ease shoppers’ minds and help retailers grow sales.

It’s been eight months and we are suffering from pandemic fatigue. I have noticed a drop in safety and sanitation procedures in all sorts of businesses, some of my favorite places are now off the table because they are getting sloppy about following state mandated safety guidelines. We are talking about people’s lives here so, yeah, I am all for Safe Shop Assured certifications.

Ron Margulis

I worked on Ecolab’s Servsafe and Daydots programs when they were launched for the restaurant and hospitality industries more than 15 years ago. They had an immediate impact not only in the internal processes at the companies but in the trust consumers placed in those establishments. The Servsafe logo, while not as strong as Intel Inside, still reassures patrons that the establishment is following a protocol to keep them safe. I expect the Safe Shop Assured certification will do the same for c-stores if they run a solid communications plan along with the rollout.

Suresh Chaganti

I think this is a great initiative. It will help retailers follow a set of standards and safety protocols, and reassure customers.

Ken Morris

I believe this will get more people back in-store. We are once again peaking for new cases so the ease in restrictions has essentially backfired. We need to get more vigilant in mask enforcement and other safety standards until we have a vaccine in place. The store is not dead but needs to adapt to life today and match the new customer journey.

Brett Busconi
2 years 2 months ago

I like the idea that there is a way to try and make shoppers who consider the safety of the store environment an important consideration. This cannot address the larger problems, however, which I believe to be the public and federal positions as currently observed. 1.) a large percentage of people do not believe that the CDC/WHO guidelines are needed and 2.) there is no federal stance to try and act in a precautionary measure and support retailers who are working to try and do everything possible to make the experience of in-store shopping as safe as it can be.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
2 years 2 months ago

Most established retailers have a certification process in place (and have for many years) so this would be an extension. Much like food certification checks, I would feel better entering an establishment that has been certified following pandemic processes. The optimal solution would be to have a national certification based on nationally agreed upon standards – but unfortunately we are not there just yet. I hope we get there because there is value in having it and it provides transparency to the visiting customer base.

Steve Montgomery

The Safe Shop Assurance program was designed to specially address the concerns surrounding COVID-19 in a retail environment. The idea behind it is to provide certification that the retailer has met certain requirements based on our current knowledge of the virus. Having a third party validate that these sites has done so does two things. It provides a level of comfort for the customer and a point of differentiation for the retailer.

Ken Lonyai
This is a complete farce. There are so many logic-defying actions I’ve seen in stores (and I don’t frequent stores much anymore) that this will never be enforceable or valid. Rather than write a plethora of issues I’ve seen that go against “safety measures” here are three that I’ve witnessed multiple times: Cashiers stick their head around the (minimal!) acrylic screens in checkout lines to speak with shoppers; Staff pull down their masks, fully uncovering their mouths, to speak to both other staff AND customers; Staff wear masks with their nose hanging out. So a store that wants this certification will know when to put on a good show for inspectors, but when they’re gone, individuals will do what they’ve been doing. Bottom-line, this is likely, mostly a marketing ploy by retailers to try and encourage the return to in-store shopping as e-commerce explodes, which is causing a physical footprint to be harder to justify maintaining. And BTW…. it will work, at least until the pandemic worsens, then none of these attempts will matter. Better… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar

It’s a great marketing move, but the reality is that an industry-imposed certification won’t carry the same weight in consumers’ minds as a state, city, or county level health inspector does in the restaurant industry. Health and safety need government leadership and standards to have the standard mean something with enforceable teeth. But as the article states, “the lack of comprehensive federal guidelines” means someone must step in and deliver assurances to the public so that consumers fully return to stores and feel safe. If retailers are left to do this themselves, then this is a good thing and hopefully many will not only participate but continuously enforce the standards even when they’re not under inspection. As others have pointed out here, it’s one thing to follow the standards when being inspected for certification but it’s another to ensure those standards are followed every single day. Consumers expect consistency to feel safe.

Rich Kizer

It all comes down to emotions. Will customers feel better walking into a certified store, or one that does not certify? Seems to me an obvious and positive emotional plus choice.

Craig Sundstrom

I have nothing against the program, per se, but I feel the evidence is clear (he says w/o providing any) that person-to-person transmission is the main vector. So while wiping a card reader after every use, or whatever, may make people feel safer, it probably doesn’t really do much. And of course, if P2P transmission should be our focus, the minimal time spent and contact in C-stores implies they’re probably one of the lowest risk areas.

So much for the practical side of this. Does it have a marketing advantage? Much like cigarette filters in the 50’s, the answer is likely “yes”.

"We are talking about people's lives here so, yeah, I am all for Safe Shop Assured certifications."

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