Creature comforts: clean bathrooms missing from China’s malls

March 23, 2016 / By  

In China today, the easy days of retail are fading. Sales growth rates are slower and competition is intense. As a mall owner, you are competing not just with the malls up the street, but – thanks to the 3 Os of Online, Overseas, and Outlets – you are competing with malls in Japan, Korea, and further afield where services and comforts are better by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to rising overseas experience, the Chinese consumer is increasingly discerning and less tolerant of an unpleasant shopping environment. We hear a lot about virtual reality fitting rooms, smart apps that track you as you walk, and other high-tech solutions to help boost sales at traditional shopping malls. But what about getting the basics right?

To ensure consumers stay at a mall throughout the day, they must be able to use the restroom facilities without dread or fear.

For shopping centres, the failure to provide clean facilities results in shorter visits as customers leave hours earlier than they might otherwise, especially if they have young children. Less time at the mall means less time for impulse purchases and spending on food and entertainment.

As such, unclean facilities contribute to lost sales in shopping centres and performance that is underwhelming.

JLL’s North China research team launched a series of inspection surveys to assess the severity of poor restroom quality, inspecting over 95 shopping centres in Beijing, Dalian, Tianjin, and Zhengzhou in the past year. The malls inspected were all large regional centres or above, with at least a mid-range positioning, and did not include any hypermarket-dominated neighbourhood centres.

The Scorecard: Unpleasant odours
Many restrooms suffer from odours resulting from infrequent cleaning, compounded by high usage. Sometimes, the restroom also doubles as the unofficial break room/smoking lounge for restaurant workers, and adds to the problem.

Table1_23Mar2016Source: JLL Research, 95 North China Shopping Malls Survey

In Beijing, Dalian, and Tianjin, 60-70% of restrooms surveyed had unpleasant odours. In Zhengzhou, this figure was an unbearable 100%.

In Beijing, Dalian, and Tianjin, 17-20% of restrooms had odours described as severe or very severe, which means the visitor wishes to exit immediately and hold their breath. This speaks to the need for more frequent cleaning.

The Scorecard: Toilet paper
Some malls avoid stocking toilet paper as a cost reduction measure. In Beijing, shopping centres were generally well-stocked, with 59% offering toilet paper in stalls. As expected, toilet paper availability drops off quickly outside of Beijing, with only between 8% and 20% of malls in the Tier II markets showing availability. Toilet paper in a central location, or through a vending machine, is a compromise sometimes used. However, in 46% of Dalian malls and 80% of Zhengzhou malls, this is not even presented as an option. Thus, visitors are out of luck unless they carry their supply of tissues.

Table2_23Mar2016Source: JLL Research, 95 North China Shopping Malls Survey

A possible bright spot in our survey was hand soap. Across North China, an impressive 70% of mall restrooms offered hand soap.

Table3_23Mar2016Source: JLL Research, 95 North China Shopping Malls Survey

Call to action
Landlords are advised to make appropriate investments in their property management routines in order to provide an acceptable standard of cleanliness. As the saying goes, don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

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