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Convenience Stores Lag Other Retail Industries in COVID-19 Safety

social distancing signs

NEW YORK — Ipsos' Mystery Shoppers' program hit retail stores across the United States to evaluate how retailers score when it comes to health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York-based global research firm used the findings to compile the second wave of its Consumer Health & Safety Index, which identifies several top performers that did an excellent job of installing health and safety signage reminding customers of social distancing practices, and ensured near perfect compliance of employees wearing PPE properly, among other benchmarks.

"We are witnessing a century-old approach to customer experience make monumental changes in a matter of weeks and months; it's really quite impressive," said Shohini Banerjee, senior vice president at U.S. Channel Performance group at Ipsos. "Many of the COVID-19 precautions and improvements are not small or inexpensive — they're a complete shift in how employees behave and how products and services are distributed — a total disruption that retail has taken in stride."

In the convenience channel, Ipsos Mystery Shoppers surveyed 7-Eleven, Wawa, RaceTrac, Circle K, Kwik Trip and QuikTrip locations.

Among the key c-store findings, the firm found that one in five consumers do not trust any stores across industries when it comes to cleanliness and safety protocols; convenience stores are among the least trusted retailer types.

According to Ipsos, the availability of hand sanitizer at entrances/checkout is the top driver of trust for c-stores. However, only 27 percent of stores had sanitizer inside the location entrance and 25 percent made it available near checkout.

In addition, only 83 percent of stores saw all employees properly wearing masks in-store, putting c-stores at the bottom of the cross-industry average of 91 percent.

With an overall score of 40 out of 100, the convenience store industry ranked fifth out of five measured industries.

As a result of the mystery shopping program, Ipsos ranked the top retail industries overall as follows:

  1. Grocery
  2. Big box
  3. Financial services
  4. Food and beverage
  5. Convenience stores

The top performers for health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic were Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, ShopRite and Costco, according to Ipsos.

Some notable overall data points among all retail industries include:

  • Only one in three retailers provided hand sanitizer inside the store entrance and roughly one in four provided hand sanitizer at checkout (28 percent).
  • Only one in four retailers (28 percent) had restrooms with visible and up to date cleaning schedules displayed, which is one of the top five drivers of trust among consumers.
  • Sixty percent of the retailers visited were not observed to have employees cleaning high touch areas with disinfectant, the third driver of trust among consumers.
  • One in five retailers visited (19 percent) had no social distancing reminders present inside stores, a top five driver of consumers returning to stores.
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