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Within the last few decades, many studies have been conducted on the impacts of scents and scenting in the retail and hospitality industries. These experiments have largely focused on the effects of scent on everything from our mood to memories – including our perceptions of a brand. However, less has been made of the impacts of washroom air care - but what does this mean for businesses?
The truth is that malodour in a public washroom can negatively influence the perceptions of the environment and a business. These behaviours can include concerns around cleanliness, hygiene and unpleasant smells that can trigger fears of sickness, such as discomfort or anxiety, which can cause consumers to actively avoid future visits to the business and hold them responsible.
Research from Initial which looked into the experiences, preferences and behaviours of members of the public in five markets including: UK, France, Italy, Australia and Malaysia found that 77% of consumers perceive a business more or less favourably depending on the state of its washrooms, strongly demonstrating that businesses need to pay more attention to what their consumers want.
Smells are usually one of the first things people notice when entering a public washroom and immediately connect it to an emotion. Dr Andy Myers, Director at consumer neuroscience consultancy Walnut Unlimited, says that our sense of smell is the one most strongly linked to emotion and memory and that it is also highly discriminating. Initial’s research found that 92% of respondents have encountered an unpleasant smell in a public washroom, creating a feeling of overwhelming disgust for 76% of respondents. It’s therefore unsurprising that unpleasant washroom smells can become associated with uncleanliness (85%) and poor hygiene (82%).
According to the World Health Organisation, hand hygiene is the most important measure to avoid the transmission of harmful germs. Initial research found when people think a washroom is dirty, they are considerably more likely to behave in a way that contributes to the spread of germs and bacteria. As it happens, 88% of respondents admitted to rushing out of a washroom when experiencing a bad smell, with 28% saying they would miss something out to make their washroom visit faster such as not drying their hands or not washing them at all.
Research by Nielsen suggests that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. Initial research also found unpleasant washroom smells leave nearly 80% of people with a negative perception of the business, and nearly a quarter feeling compelled to tell friends or family, about their unpleasant experience. As a result, the chance of reputational damage as a result of poor air care can last long after the washroom experience itself.
As well as the intangible implications of poor air care – like hygiene and reputation - research also suggests a link between unpleasant washroom experiences and custom. Initial’s research discovered that an unpleasant smelling washroom could impact consumer purchasing behaviour, with 67% of respondents saying an unpleasant smell in an organisation’s public washroom would make them less likely to shop there and 60% choosing to leave immediately or not return at all.
Nobody wants to experience an unpleasant smell in a public washroom, nor experience missing essential resources such as soap and toilet paper... Good air care does not simply just require installing an air freshener, malodour can result from bacteria build-up in urinals and toilets and lack of air ventilation. Good air care solutions can remove malodour simply by filtering, cleaning and freshening the air.
While modern air care methods are not a staple within many organisations, the need for effective washroom odour control and avoiding unpleasant first impressions should not be ignored.
Businesses have a duty of care with public washrooms and facility managers specifically need to consider air care within their day-to-day maintenance plan. To understand the reality of air care, the risks to businesses reputation and the risks to repeat custom – download our report to find out more.