by Rachel Potter

A recent study conducted by M/A/R/C Research and National In-Store including responses from 30,000 shoppers and 6,400 in-store audits highlighted the need for companies to maintain the cleanliness and general upkeep of their facilities. 14% of respondents said that they would stop frequenting stores they found too dirty and 29% stated they would only go to pick up items they could not find elsewhere.
“Clearly cleanliness is an important component of the consumer experience. It impacts consumers’ willingness to shop at a given retailer and also influences frequency of shopping and the length of time consumers are willing to shop. All of this has a direct impact on the amount of spending a retailer can capture,” says Randy Wahl, Senior Vice President at M/A/R/C Research.

We’ve all been to stores that are less than clean or had to use restrooms in a pinch that we would have avoided otherwise, and we subconsciously know that the dirtier a place is, the less time people want to spend there. This is true even for people without germ phobias. Cleanliness inspires confidence and makes even a plainly decorated space more inviting.

I lived in Russia in the early 1990s, and while people had to buy groceries and everyday supplies, they didn’t shop recreationally. Partly this was because goods were still pretty scarce and better goods were priced in Western dollars while wages were still in Soviet rubles. But the lack of window shopping was also because the stores were so dirty and so poorly maintained. It’s disconcerting to stand in a line for the butcher and count the flies stuck to the fly paper (and still buzzing).  When the vegetables you buy come with earth still attached, impulse purchases go down. Windows were dirty, floors were filthy, walls were cracked and unpainted. You went in, got what you needed, and you got out of there. It was depressing.

It’s rarer to find the same repulsive level of dirt in American stores, although you can find this sometimes in large cities. The grocery stores I shopped at when I lived in inner-city Detroit were certainly discouraging. Still, the customers surveyed by M/A/R/C were deterred by surroundings “not as clean as they would like.” This doesn’t mean Third World, it means: dirty floors, cloudy windows, grimy or untended bathrooms, untidy shelves, and poorly maintained furniture or fixtures. A business doesn’t have to be filthy to discourage shoppers. That first impression is your customer’s most important one, and this doesn’t just apply to groceries or retail establishments. Patients are put off by messy doctors’ offices, potential clients may not linger in your lobby if they have to look at the  salt buildup on your carpet or the gum stuck on the undersides of furniture, customers will walk out of greasy restaurants.

Furthermore, if neglect continues over time, permanent damage may be done, says David Pollard of First Choice Cleaning & Restorations. “If you do not regularly vacuum your carpets, they will wear faster and have to be replaced – a double expense, first for the carpet and then for the lost productivity during installation. If you don’t fully clean sinks or drinking fountains or flush drains, you may have to replace your fixtures. Nothing repels customers more than stained or poorly working toilets. If you care about your business and how many customers or clients you attract, you will focus your attention on the overall cleanliness and maintenance of your facility.”

Many entrepreneurs are “big idea” people, but often it’s the routine, everyday care you take with your business that attracts and keeps customers, and they will see this overall attention to detail and concern for your clients’ experience in your clean and tidy business space. Those clean floors mean more than just clean floors.