The Dirty Truth: 7 Hidden Reasons Behind Poor Retail Store Cleanliness

Woman cleaning front door of retail store

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Despite tens of thousands of viral TikTok #CleanTok videos, many retailers still show a psychological barrier toward cleaning or requiring their staff to maintain the cleanliness of their store.

Yet retail stores are the face of a brand, where customers interact with products and make buying decisions based on how well they are presented. Despite this, many retail stores seem lax in training their employees to properly clean and maintain a store.

Consumer Reports said that nothing turns off customers as much as dirty stores.

With fewer shoppers entering stores, you can't afford anyone to meet anything that turns them off.

Ever walked into a dirty store or restaurant bathroom?

It makes customers want to turn and run for the nearest exit. It can damage your brand image and even the bottom line. Before you get to the dirt, let's get to why it accumulates...

7 Hidden Reasons Behind Poor Retail Store Cleanliness

1. Insufficient training and lack of importance:

One of the biggest reasons for poor retail store cleanliness is that store owners and managers don't prioritize cleanliness training for their staff. This lack of emphasis conveys that cleanliness is not a high retail management priority and is overlooked when allocating time and resources for employee training. If you don't train them that everyone is responsible for cleanliness during onboarding, they'll look at you with shock when you ask them to "Go clean the bathroom."

Solution: Managers should invest in training programs with checklists emphasizing store cleanliness's importance. Those learning aids must be based on clear guidelines on how to maintain a clean and organized store. This includes establishing routines, schedules, and accountability measures.

2. Psychological barriers to cleaning:

Associates often find it challenging to maintain cleanliness due to several psychological factors. Procrastination, for instance, is a common hurdle, as cleaning tasks are put off, with "I had to wait on customers" instead. That continues with each shift until the situation becomes overwhelming. Associates who consider themselves not responsible for the store's cleanliness lead to the "bystander effect," or diffusion of responsibility, where everyone assumes someone else will take care of the issue.

Solution: Managers should foster a sense of ownership and responsibility among employees by clearly communicating expectations and assigning specific cleaning tasks to each staff member. They can also encourage teamwork and recognize employees who excel at maintaining a clean environment but it is a balance. You don't want to keep giving out stars for cleaning over bonuses for selling. 

3. Absence of a cleaning culture:

A store's environment and culture play a significant role in shaping employee behavior. If management doesn't actively promote a cleaning culture, then employees won't either.

Solution: One of the best ways to achieve this is make your shift lead or assistant in charge of the program. They can create a culture of cleanliness by leading by example, regularly monitoring store cleanliness, and providing ongoing feedback to employees. 

4. Time constraints and competing priorities:

No matter how many or few shoppers are in the store, employees are often pressed for time and may prioritize tasks like fulfillment or inventory management over cleaning. This leads to cleanliness falling by the wayside as other responsibilities take precedence.

Solution: Managers should allocate adequate time in employees' schedules for cleaning tasks and ensure that these tasks are not viewed as less important than others. They can also encourage multitasking and integrating cleaning into everyday duties to ensure it becomes routine in store operations. I like to teach that if you can accomplish it within a minute - do it. Don't take the time to write it on a list. 

5. Clear communication of expectations and consequences:

Like poor selling or customer service, one of the reasons associates may ignore cleanliness is a lack of understanding of the expectations and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations. What does success look like, and what happens if that doesn't happen? Managers should clearly communicate the importance of cleanliness and outline the consequences of non-compliance, such as disciplinary actions or negative performance reviews. You don't want to see a post of your store on social media like this. 

Solution: Store leaders need to tell associates how to keep the store clean and what they expect. They can hold morning huddles to discuss cleanliness standards, address concerns, and provide updates on any changes in protocol. 

6. Implementing a buddy system:

Sometimes, employees may not pay attention to cleaning because they feel isolated or unsupported. Implementing a buddy system can help employees feel more accountable and motivated to maintain a clean store.

Solution: Managers can pair experienced staff members with newer employees to provide guidance, support, and encouragement in maintaining store cleanliness. A sense of camaraderie can make it more likely that employees will prioritize cleaning tasks. Be careful, though, you don't need two people to empty the trash.

7. Regular audits and progress tracking:

Employees may ignore cleanliness if they believe their efforts go unnoticed or are not evaluated. Regular audits and tracking progress can help managers identify areas of improvement and provide feedback to employees, ensuring that cleanliness remains a priority.

Solution: Managers should conduct regular cleanliness audits. They can use this information to provide constructive feedback, recognize exceptional performance, and address any areas of concern. We've all seen the sheet on the back of a bathroom door where associates should initial they did a visual check. Of course, if the last one was a week ago, it doesn't help. Tracking progress over time will also help identify trends and make necessary adjustments to the store's cleaning policies and procedures.

In a conversation with Consumer Reports, Dennis O'Brien, president of the Cleaning Services Group, highlighted several key factors that indicated cleanliness from a consumer's perspective and provided a road map to the answer, "What does success look like?"

Indicators of a clean store include:

  1. Impeccable sidewalks: Customers value clean and well-maintained sidewalks and steps before even stepping foot inside a store. Grocery store cleaning companies often employ power washing to keep these areas pristine.

  2. Spotless entryway: A squeaky-clean entrance, from the floor mats to the windows, is essential. Debris, like cigarette butts, gum, and mysterious stains, can raise concerns about infrequent cleaning practices.

  3. Clear cleanliness signs: Consumers appreciate visible signs that a company prioritizes cleanliness, such as readily available trash cans, recycling bins, hand sanitizer, and hand wipes. This is particularly important for stores with shopping carts and baskets, which can harbor germs.

  4. Gleaming floors: Freshly polished and sparkling floors create an instant impression of a clean environment. Conversely, scuffed and dirty floors can leave customers questioning the overall cleanliness of the store.

  5. Hygienic restrooms: Restrooms should be well-lit, fresh-smelling, and fully stocked with essentials like toilet paper and paper towels. A study found that 86% of restaurant customers associate a dirty restroom with a dirty kitchen, and 75% would avoid returning to an establishment with an unclean bathroom.

  6. Prompt spill management: Customers judge a company's commitment to cleanliness based on how quickly spills are addressed. Ideally, spills should be attended to within minutes. It's crucial for stores to have staff members or external cleaning services constantly monitoring their retail floors for spills and stains.

In Sum

By paying attention to these indicators, retailers can convey a strong sense of cleanliness and enhance the overall shopping experience for their customers.

A clean retail store is essential for attracting and retaining customers and maintaining a positive brand image. By addressing the psychological barriers to cleaning, providing comprehensive training, and promoting a culture of cleanliness, managers can motivate their employees to maintain a clean and inviting store environment.

Your crew can share their own #cleantok vids to keep them motivated.