Modern Retail

Why the new normal for retailers means hygiene will make or break companies

The first few months of 2020 has been unlike any other in recent memory, as the world has faced the Great Pause; a pause in socialising, a pause in shopping, a pause in everything retailers consider normal.

This seismic shock has left retailers reeling and wondering when the UK economy will come out of hibernation. Restrictions ease in early July, but what retail environment will shoppers return to and what can retailers do to persuade them back?

Covid-19 has changed consumer behaviour permanently. Its viral nature has made us realise that, in our daily movements, we are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain. That weakness – wherever it is – has the power to change lives, and end lives.

Hygiene is now at the heart of everything. For retailers – it will make or break reputations, it will determine their survival – and for economies – hygiene is the path back to prosperity and growth.

Consumer behaviour is sometimes difficult to predict. But where consumers are easy to understand, is that they are savvy, and they know authenticity when they see it. As importantly, consumers are humans – and that means retailers must contend with human nature.

Pre-Covid, consumers saw retailers as having desirable goods in windows, bright lights and products to buy. Now, consumers see retailers as potential Petri dishes of infection. Who just touched this? Has that fellow shopper washed their hands? Does this shop/pub/cinema actually keep this place clean?

That is human nature, and you cannot argue with it. Perception is everything.

My company’s research shows 75% of consumers say their attitude to hygiene has changed ‘permanently’ due to Covid-19. Only 50% feel protected from a disease when they see a cleaner wipe a door handle and even less (22%) have a ‘high level of trust’ in building owners to maintain the necessary hygiene standards.

The knock-out statistic? 75% of consumers say they are more likely to visit a building, if there is a visible, automatic cleaning device.

The logic and human nature are clear. If consumers clearly see a product keeping them safe, they feel more comfortable going shopping, or going to a restaurant/pub, rather than relying on somebody telling you they’ve maintained hygiene. We have all visited a shabby restroom, that ironically has an hourly cleaning rota ticked off on the wall. Even if the hourly rota has been maintained, it is of little use if a consumer with low hygiene standards comes in ten minutes after the last clean was done. You are only as safe as the weakest link in the chain, and consumers know this.

This might be a huge wake-up call for retailers, but I saw this coming and built a product to meet the challenge. I’ve been described by The New York Times as seeing the ‘future of germs’ and I did. Hygiene is now front and centre – as I knew it eventually would be.

The door handle is the highest contact communal point in our daily lives.

My product is the 99POINT9. It fixes to a door 15 inches above the handle and automatically sprays a burst of quick-drying, isopropanol and quaternary ammonium compound-based formula that disinfects the door handle, killing 99.9% of germs.

Our technology also disinfects the entire door handle, on top and underneath. That is exceedingly difficult to achieve, but we did it.

Any normal alcohol-based bactericide, like hand sanitizer, is effective only when wet. It kills germs initially but when it dries, bacteria and viruses can start colonizing again. Our formula has residual efficacy ensuring the handle remains free of germs under normal use. It kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, even when dry.

By disinfecting door handles regularly – even every 15 minutes – the 99POINT9 is an ‘invisible janitor’, consistently protecting people at a critical point of cross-contamination – the door handle. It is cost-effective, simple to install, and easy to maintain.

The 99POINT9 is the only automated door handle-disinfecting system to be approved for use by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The former CEO of the British Medical Association is on our medical advisory board. The best hygiene needs the best science. We’ve done it and got it.

Door handles are everywhere. They are the gateway to everything in a retail environment but expose consumers to the frailties of human nature. Do people regularly wash their hands effectively? Unfortunately, they do not.

Do consumers trust shops and brands to clean all their door handles, thoroughly, every 15 minutes? The data says ‘no’. 99POINT9 kills all the germs, all the time, and its automatic – you do not have to remember to do it. It is the ultimate peace of mind for consumers.

The world has changed, and traditional hygiene services are not built for the new normal retailers now inhabit. In a Covid-world, consumers know sub-optimal hygiene could mean the loss of a loved one or life-changing physical conditions.

The onus is on retailers to reassure consumers. Is the old hygiene strategy enough? No, it is not. Consumers need to see effective precautions visibly being taken. Retailers may feel they are doing enough but you cannot buck human nature. Consumers will go where they feel safe.

If that wasn’t enough, the ethics and reputations of companies are under scrutiny like never before. The trend for public shaming of corporate behaviour was underway before the pandemic but has escalated as consumers become more ethically minded.

Consumers have long memories and increasingly link purchasing decisions, and their perception of brands – to how companies behave. Consumers will rightfully ask retailers: are you making the effort? are you doing the right thing?

When you fly, your first thought is: are you going to keep me safe? Airlines have long known the mantra – you think safety is expensive, try an accident. We are moving more that way with retailers.

Retailers must react to the new normal and visibly make the effort. It doesn’t have to be expensive (and with 99POINT9 – it isn’t). If retailers don’t, reputations will suffer, and companies will die.

If they do, retail can thrive in the new normal. That is good for the retail industry, consumers and the overall economy.

Contributor: Simon Sassoon, CEO of 99POINT9