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Expert Opinion: Cleanliness is key to customer satisfaction, retail success


New data collected by HappyOrNot customer feedback terminals positioned in retail locations all around the United States showed that, out of all areas of complaint, cleanliness had the highest amount of negative feedback in 2023.

The data also showed that speed of service was the second most common complaint, followed by customer service. On the other hand, to showcase where stores are performing well, staff friendliness received the highest amount of positive customer feedback, beating value for money, which may be a surprise for many.
While it may seem surprising that we seem to value cleanliness over a bargain, the closer we look at the issue, the more sense it makes. First impressions are hugely important. A study from the University of York showed “that a single glance of a person’s face for just 33 to 100 milliseconds was sufficient to form a first impression.”

Initial impressions also matter when walking into a store for the first time. The cleanliness, tidiness and overall presentation of a store plays a key role in shaping patrons’ perception upon entry, whether subconsciously or consciously. It makes a huge difference in the amount of time a customer spends in your store, and therefore rate of sale.

As well as cleanliness in terms of how clean the store actually is, other vital factors which come
under the presentation umbrella include product placement, seasonal displays and organization.
These all play a vital role in curating a comfortable retail experience. And looking at data at the level of specific locations, we can see a clear positive correlation between cleanliness and revenue, meaning that fixing issues with cleanliness results in the revenue and profits going up.
So, the question remains, how is the obvious customer satisfaction point of cleanliness being missed time and time again? There are numerous reasons why this could be the case. It could be due to short staffing, lack of staff training, lack of data, or management failures.

Having real time data insights can help pinpoint what is going wrong. If management is able to
measure unusual high points in negative customer feedback, for a certain reason or even at a certain location, it’s then possible to address the problem at its source.
Negative customer feeling can be difficult to address immediately in the hustle and bustle of retail environments, but is easily addressed if the cause of the problem is evident. Fixing the issue of bad organization and cleanliness leads to multiple clear benefits: Customers can find products more easily, customers want to spend more time in store, customer loyalty increases, it’s good for brand image, and basket size increases. All of this maximizes revenue, meaning the necessary effort is worth it.
Stores lacking in cleanliness can be extremely damaging to brand image in many ways, especially in the age of social media, with people keen to post minor retail flaws such as makeup on clothes, opened testers, and merchandise on the floor. There are many examples of stores going viral for all the wrong reasons.
What is also sometimes overlooked is how important it is for employees to feel pride in where they work, the responsibility lies with the company to ensure this is the case. Without this it could lead to a high turnover of staff, which in turn leads to inconsistent standards, and both mean losing a lot of money. When staff are busy, having systems in place that allow quick responses to problems can minimize the negative impact of incidents such as mess and spillages on the overall store experience, including staff experience. Employee experience is an
important measure as it leads to improved customer experience. The trickle down effect from companies’ values and attention to detail to customer satisfaction is clearly evident.
Cleanliness should be a major concern for stores as data shows it had the highest amount of negative feedback, proving that first impressions and in-store experience are incredibly important. Our data highlights where stores can improve to increase customers' happiness, making patrons more likely to return and therefore both maximizing revenue and strengthening brand image.


Miika Makitalo

Miika Mäkitalo is CEO of HappyOrNot (www.happy-, the creator of the ubiquitous smiley-faced feedback terminals seen in stores and airports worldwide.

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