Five Focus Areas for In-Store Retailers to Build and Retain Shopper Confidence when Developing Policies for Health and Safety

Heading into 2022, shoppers are showing that they feel more comfortable visiting retail locations than they did early in the pandemic. As in-person foot traffic increases in the new year, it will be key for retailers to create positive returning experiences.

Five Focus Areas for In-Store Retailers to Build and Retain Shopper Confidence when Developing Policies for Health and Safety

In this article, learn how to address five critical health and safety areas to boost shoppers’ comfort levels. Readers will learn:

  • How to identify and mitigate store risks early on
  • The key to positive stakeholder engagement
  • How to ensure emergency preparedness across locations

Content Summary

Air and water quality: Identify and mitigate risks
Health services: Support well-being for all
Cleaning and sanitization procedures: It’s not all about disinfection
Emergency preparedness: Built-in resilience for recovery
Stakeholder engagement: Communicate commitment and instill confidence
Future-proofing health and safety

Shoppers are showing that they feel more comfortable visiting retail locations than they did early in the pandemic, due in part to the efforts retailers have made to ensure a clean, safe shopping experience. But as consumers choose where to spend their time and their money, backing up your efforts with evidence-based third-party validation is a smart move.

In the end, it’s all about future proofing your organization against risk and sharing with your customers that you’re invested in their well-being. In this article, we highlight five areas you need to consider as you develop policies for health and safety in your stores.

  • Air and water quality: Learn to identify and mitigate risks.
  • Health services: Make sure you support well-being for all.
  • Cleaning and sanitization procedures: Learn why it’s not all about disinfection.
  • Emergency preparedness: Ensure built-in resilience for recovery.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Communicate commitment and instill confidence.

As shoppers head into the holiday season, there’s pent-up demand for the in-store experience that has long been a key part of the festivities. As retailers welcome customers with open arms, creating a great experience for shoppers will include giving them — and the retail workforce — the confidence that best practices for their health and safety have been implemented.

According to a July 2021 report from the National Retail Federation, physical stores remain a critical asset in retail, with consumers raising their expectations for in-store experiences and services. Citing research from Deloitte, the report noted that as of May 2021, about 73% of consumers felt comfortable going to the store, up from 34% just 13 months prior. And, as safety measures such as improved air ventilation and hand sanitizer have become more commonplace in the retail environment, it’s likely that health and safety protocols have played a role.

“The global pandemic made clear that now more than ever, our buildings must be considered as vehicles for public health,” said Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). “Operational protocols that are evidencebased and backed by the latest scientific research are essential, not only to the health and safety of the millions of people in the retail workforce but also to the billions of customers they serve.”

That is why Hodgdon and the IWBI team launched the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, an evidence-based, third-party verified pathway for addressing acute health threats, including COVID-19 and those that will emerge in the future. Launched in July 2020, the rating has been globally adopted in over two billion square feet of space, with strong uptake in the retail sector.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating works by guiding, validating and recognizing organizations’ efforts to address five critical health and safety areas, including air and water quality management, cleaning and sanitization procedures and emergency preparedness. Through a third-party review of these policies and procedures, plans are assessed, allowing for consistency and integrity. Upon successful completion, retail spaces communicate their achievement with prominent placement of the WELL Health-Safety seal.

“The confidence of consumers and the retail workforce are essential to our pandemic recovery,” Hodgdon said. “Having a trusted third-party confirm that our favorite places operate by evidence-based and science-backed protocols is a key part of building that confidence.”

Industry leaders around the world have embraced this approach and are seeing results.

“We are proud to be the first global financial institution to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating,” said David Arena, head of Global Real Estate at JPMorgan Chase, whose 6,200 global retail locations achieved the rating in 2020. “With building health and air quality standards top of mind as the COVID pandemic continues, we wanted anyone entering one of our buildings or branches to see the WELL seal and know we’re doing all we can to keep our employees and visitors safe and healthy.”

For retailers who want to achieve these outcomes, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. Hodgdon suggests starting with the five areas the WELL Health-Safety Rating covers: Air and water quality, health services, cleaning and sanitization, emergency preparedness and stakeholder engagement.

Air and water quality: Identify and mitigate risks

Studies have shown the profound effect air ventilation can have on health and safety, including the transmission of germs and viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viral particles, such as those that cause COVID-19, spread more easily between people indoors than outdoors. As a result, the CDC recommends ventilation mitigation for indoor spaces to reduce these risks.

Contaminants in water can also cause a host of health problems, including lung disease. It’s important to ensure water — especially water in recirculated systems such as hot water loops and cooling towers — stays sufficiently chlorinated to reduce pathogens. Without chlorination, bacteria such as Legionella can spread in water systems, leading to illness or even death, according to the CDC.

This is why monitoring air and water quality, paired with operational strategies to improve ventilation and filtration, is critical to health and safety.

Steven E. Fivel, general counsel for Simon Property Group, the largest owner of shopping malls in the U.S., said Simon considered this information when working with IWBI on its WELL Health-Safety Rating for its 204 properties in the U.S.

“We established a set of protocols at the beginning of the pandemic designed to protect our employees, tenants and shoppers,” he said. “We worked closely with IWBI so they could help validate the measures we had taken, including implementing rigorous operational policies aimed at improving cleaning practices, reducing respiratory-particle exposure and surface contact, plus continuing our comprehensive emergency response protocols, like business continuity and promotion of health and wellness management.”

As a result, the rating has played a key role in the rebound of traffic Simon properties have seen, he said.

Health services: Support well-being for all

Health services are also important for retailers to consider when creating a healthier and safer environment, but this area focuses on people.

Before the pandemic, studies estimated that millions of Americans lacked appropriate sick leave, causing them to go to work when ill, potentially infecting colleagues and — in the case of retail — consumers. As sick-leave policies expanded during the COVID-19 crisis, it was a critical step in reducing the spread of the virus, but it’s important to remember that even illnesses such as influenza, which costs the U.S. $10.4 billion in annual health care costs, according to the CDC, also can affect a retail setting. Providing easy access to vaccines for the flu and implementing policies, such as hand washing, to reduce the spread of other illnesses can not only decrease risks of infection but also increase health, safety and productivity.

Wireless provider T-Mobile has championed a policy that allows both full- and part-time employees to begin accruing paid time off from their first day on the job. That is one measure that has helped the company become the first wireless provider to receive a WELL Health-Safety Rating for all of its 3,200 retail stores, 22 customer experience centers and its headquarters in Bellevue, WA, and Overland Park, KS.

“Since the very early days of the pandemic, T-Mobile has been focused on doing everything we can to ensure our customers and employees feel healthy and supported when they step into any of our spaces, and this WELL Health-Safety Rating reflects our immense dedication to those efforts,” said Darcey Estes, VP of corporate real estate and facilities at T-Mobile. “As a result, we can welcome customers and employees back into buildings that are healthier, cleaner and safer than they’ve ever been.”

Providing access to mental health services is also part of building a healthier and safer environment. Furthermore, studies show it can build resiliency among employees. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, depression and anxiety have a significant economic effect, with an estimated cost to the global economy of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. In an emergency situation like the COVID-19 crisis, this becomes only more critical. According to research conducted in 2020, 42% of global employees have experienced a decline in mental health since the pandemic began.

Supporting mental health recovery is one of the commonly adopted features by organizations awarded with the WELL Health-Safety Rating, according to IWBI.

Cleaning and sanitization procedures: It’s not all about disinfection

Cleaning protocols, especially when combined with good handwashing policies, can reduce the risk of disease and infection in a retail setting. But it is also important to keep in mind that some kinds of cleaning products can adversely affect health and safety.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), several factors can influence whether a cleaning product will lead to health problems, including what it is made from, how it is used and how well the area it is being used in is ventilated. If used improperly, these products can cause burning eyes, sore throat, coughing, trouble breathing or asthma attacks, among other health issues. Retailers can mitigate these risks through the creation and application of thoughtful, evidence-based protocols.

Baekjeong, a South Korea-based restaurant chain that was awarded the WELL Health-Safety Rating for its operation facilities in China, understood how important these factors are to maintaining a healthier environment. It updated its cleaning and sanitization protocols to meet the WELL Health-Safety Rating feature requirements and optimized the cleaning products it used.

“Achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating helped enhance the health and safety features for Baekjeong customers,” said Qiming Zhang, Southwestern China regional general manager. “That’s an important support to fulfill our mission … displaying our commitment to customer health and safety.”

Emergency preparedness: Built-in resilience for recovery

Also critical, and put more sharply into focus by the pandemic, is emergency preparedness and resilience through crises. The past two years have underscored how infectious diseases can cause major disruption and highlighted a simple truth that disasters take many forms.

According to WHO, natural disasters kill roughly 90,000 people and affect nearly 160 million people worldwide each year. In the U.S. alone, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) statistics for 2019 showed 61 major disaster declarations across 33 states, territories and tribal nations, with declared disasters including tropical storms, earthquakes, fires, floods and more.

Emergency management and business continuity plans can help retailers better prepare for unforeseen events, minimize confusion and improve coordination and safety during emergency situations. According to FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 40-60% of small businesses permanently close following a disaster due to lack of a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan with proper mitigation strategies.

Leading business organizations, especially those handling continuous flow of crowds understand the value of emergency preparedness and prioritize disaster planning. The Children’s Museum of Cleveland leveraged the framework of the WELL HealthSafety Rating to reinforce its emergency preparedness plans.

“With the WELL Health-Safety Rating we are able to give additional confidence to our families that the Museum is a safe place to visit during the pandemic,” said Maria Campanelli, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Cleveland. “We noted that many of our safety protocols and plans, including other disaster planning, are also recognized as a best practice through this certification. The WELL Health-Safety seal on our doors will differentiate us from other places families can visit.”

Stakeholder engagement: Communicate commitment and instill confidence

When it comes to building a healthier and safer environment, stakeholder engagement is critical to building trust, strengthening coordination and improving communications both across teams and with the public.

One way stakeholder engagement benefits organizations is through improving “health literacy” among groups, helping people access and understand basic health information and concepts. According to a WHO report, when health literacy is low, it can be linked to decreased participation in disease detection, more workplace accidents, poor health choices and diminished management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. On the flip side, when health literacy is high, the WHO reports, it benefits societies with increased economic prosperity and improved wellbeing overall.

In short, implementing programs that promote health and wellbeing isn’t enough. Without successful communication about these efforts and a strong understanding of key concepts and actions, even the best-intentioned programs can fall flat.

“When we made the choice to reopen our centers in the spring and summer of 2020, one of the biggest questions that we had to ask ourselves was, ‘How can we communicate to our shoppers, employees and tenants that we are doing everything in our power to make our centers a safe place to spend time?’” said Brian McCarthy, Chief Administrative Officer at Brookfield Properties.

“We had health and sanitation plans in place, of course, but we wanted something tangible to really show our commitment to this initiative,” he said. “After doing a bit of research, we were made aware of the WELL Health-Safety Rating. We learned more about the program and felt that it would be the best way to show that we were putting the health and safety of our community first.”

Future-proofing health and safety

Once retailers have appropriate policies, procedures and strategies that cover the five key areas, having these verified by a credible source outside the organization is critical to establishing confidence. And companies eyeing the future also know they must continually assess their performance and make tweaks along the way. That’s why the WELL Health-Safety Rating requires annual review.

As consumers continue to test their comfort level for returning to stores, the WELL HealthSafety Rating can be an important key to shopping success.