Retail professionals want customers to take purchases home with them, not bed bugs. Unfortunately, bed bug infestations are on the rise across the country, retail stores included. According to a National Pest Management Association (NPMA) survey, one in five Americans have had a bed bug infestation themselves or know someone who has encountered them at home or in a hotel.

bed bugs in retail store

This resurgence means that bed bugs are showing up in more and different places, including clothing stores. No longer considered just a household and hotel pest, a 2015 Bugs Without Borders survey by NPMA found that 45 percent of pest control professionals have encountered bed bugs in office buildings. Furniture stores, mattress stores and other retail establishments may also be at risk. That’s because bed bugs can hitchhike from other locations on the personal belongings, clothing and shoes of customers and employees. Bed bugs can also hitchhike on incoming stock and returned items.

Related: Bed Bugs Find Their Ways into Theatres Free of Charge

Finding bed bugs in store purchases or in a store itself can be detrimental to an establishment’s reputation and for customer relations. It’s important for stores to understand the rising threat of bed bugs and to know what steps can be taken to help prevent an infestation as well as to address the problem if the need arises.

Related: What to do if your business has bed bugs

Why are Bed Bugs Such a Nuisance?

A big reason why bed bugs are so feared is that they actually feed on the blood of humans, typically while people are sleeping. Bed bugs can leave behind bites that may appear as red, raised welts and that may be itchy and even painful for some people, similar to a mosquito bite. However, some people may not even react to bed bug bites, so they may not even be aware that they’re being fed on. Bed bugs can also leave behind unappealing small, brown fecal spots, translucent bed bug eggs and shed nymph exoskeletons.

To the untrained eye, these pests can be challenging to spot. Adults are only about 4–5 millimeters long (about the size of apple seeds), and nymphs are smaller and translucent, which makes them hard to see. They are good at hiding and often seek cracks and crevices of furniture and walls as well as the underside of carpets and other hard-to-access areas.

Another reason why bed bugs are such a nuisance is that they are difficult to control and resistant to many pesticides. A single product or technique alone is unlikely to be effective on infestations. 

What Can Retail Stores Do About Bed Bugs?

The most important thing that retail store owners and managers can do is to simply be aware of this growing problem. Learn to recognize bed bugs and their signs, and be alert to the possibility of bed bugs coming into the store. Like many other pests, bed bugs can establish large infestations rapidly, so quick action is key.

Here are some other steps that retail businesses can take:

  1. Educate store staff about bed bugs so they know what to look for and what to do if they see signs.
  2. Watch for signs of bed bugs, especially on clothing and upholstered furniture.
  3. If you have fitting rooms or waiting areas, keep a special eye out in these locations. Make sure fitting rooms and waiting areas in your store are vacuumed frequently, paying close attention to cracks, crevices, upholstered furniture seams and where carpeting meets the walls.
  4. Clear out clutter from storage rooms, checkout areas and employee break rooms.
  5. Inspect all deliveries, shipments and returns for signs of bed bugs.
  6. Have a program in place for what to do if bed bugs are found in the store, including bagging infested items in plastic bags.
  7. Get professional help. A commercial pest control partner with experience in serving retail businesses can help you detect infestations early as well as help prevent future problems. Terminix® Commercial offers customized bed bug treatments employing multiple methods, including steam, physical removal with a HEPA vacuum, targeted application of pesticides and other proven solutions.
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