Before COVID, retailers could judge the feasibility of any store before choosing to invest. Now that luxury of choice has gone and been replaced with a need to reassess risk across entire estates and innovate to keep stores viable…
When looking at the feasibility of any store, retailers would assess risk, taking into account location, local demographics and product profile. So if you are selling highly desirable fashion from a store in Welwyn, your risk management considerations and security levels would look very difficult to that of your store in Poole. And that is not rocket science…
Clearly any retailer worth their salt is going to look carefully before opening, on a store by store basis, at what it is going to cost to protect their outlet and contain loss within acceptable levels. That’s not news. However, many retailers are now finding that COVID has fundamentally changed the dynamic between cost and risk. And that, for many, is a problem.
The hard truth is that old style risk assessment and management will leave some stores unviable. Because if the price of cap ex hardware and manual security is too high, when taken in the context of likely sales, then that store is not feasible. Otherwise you will end up spending too much and not making enough money.
And it is important to reassess risk in the light of the “new normal” because in some cases that is not going to change any time soon. So either estates will shrink, sales reduce, costs of closure and reinstatement rise, profits drop and jobs will be lost, or risk will have to be re-assessed. And in many cases a new way of protecting assets within the altered cost base will have to be found.
So what changes should we be looking at? First of all we need to look at the assumptions upon which our risk decisions are based. For many that may require a paradigm shift in thinking.
Previously inviable assumptions may not hold true in the “new normal.” Will January 2021 herald a return to familiar habits, or not? You have to take a view on that, which could be risky. If there is a second spike, or new virus or any issue in between perhaps the best course of action is to work on the basis that all stores have to be fit for all purposes in terms of feasibility.
If your store structure brings people together in close proximity that may not be such an issue for a young audience who consider themselves less at risk. However, for an older clientele that may be an issue preventing them from returning to your stores any time soon. And whilst the propensity among the young has been for some time to increasingly buy online, that was not a trend shared by the silver surfers – until recently. Concern over maintaining good health could yet be the biggest motivator for people to adopt new online shopping channels that once they eschewed.
There is no getting away from it. Social distancing means you need more space inside your stores to house the same number of shoppers. Some formats will not be flexible compared with others. For example, listed buildings are not going to be remodelled with the same degree of freedom as a modern unit on an out of town industrial park.
To date there is little clarity on what the “right” thing to do is regarding customer refunds and the quarantining of returned goods. If you are a fashion retailer are you expected to hold every piece of clothing tried on by an individual but not purchased in quarantine for up to a week (depending on where you operate)! That could place significant pressure on the viability of just about any clothing store. If you sell something like jewellery that may be easier to deal with. However, then you have stores such as Halfords who have routinely quarantined all returned items for donkeys years… it is just a part of their DNA. So their stores, and indeed stock reporting systems, are already geared up (no pun intended) for that very mode of operation.
It does rather beg the question of what do you see as being the future of your customer journey. Retail sage Tony D’Onofrio maintains that stores will not go away, but their role will change to fulfilment and brand establishment. People, Tony maintains, will not browse in store as once they did but instead visit to pick up merchandise previously ordered online and to enjoy being submerged in a brand experience.
Safety of The Queue
Recently on a virtual meeting with two eminent barristers, questions were being asked by retailers about queues. The law is that if the reason for a queue outside your store is your store then you owe a duty of care to the people in that queue, whether the land outside is under your control or not. That includes all forms of liability from wonky paving slabs to duty to other mall users and terror attack. If your store makes queuing outside inevitable then you need to plan to risk manage a piece of land you don’t control.
Diminished Customer And Staff Numbers
As we considered in a previous article, is there anything either “new” or “normal” about the new normal? Is this the way it is going to be or just a passing phase, as herd immunity overcomes social hesitance about the COVID threat.
Depending upon your view of social distancing and its likely longevity will undoubtedly influence your vision for the number of customers you can serve and the number of staff you need to serve them. And will you staff heavily, investing in providing a great customer experience, or will you orientate your operation to somewhere between what you had before COVID and Amazon Go store, to keep your overheads low? Whilst retailers have seen conversion rates from store visits go through the roof, that may still result in significantly less sales than the figures expected from higher footfall and more impulse purchases.
Purpose of The Store
As alluded to above, stores are not going away anytime soon. However, their strategic use in retail is likely to change substantially. Do your premises lend themselves to such repurposing? That’s not just a question about space and location, but also about how easy it is to remodel existing stores ready for their new role.
Some retailers are seeing their stores predominantly as click and collect locations, but by another name – think Argos. Other brands see their stores as a vital link with the consumer in getting them to adopt the brand. Walk down the Champs Elysée and visit all the car dealerships. There is hardly a driveable vehicle in sight! Still other retailers have a hybrid model where multiple brand experiences are available to consumers as well as an opportunity to make purchases on the spot – historically this has been the purview of department stores, but now territory of some sports fashion facias.
Other factors may include taking into account the end of life cycle. When is that store going to need to be remodelled anyway, or reinstated and handed back to the landlord? If you were closing parts of the estate could you take hardware from them and reuse it to make other parts of the estate feasible without incurring huge costs? What grants and incentives could there be locally to make you stay and what is the value of the location from a logistics as well as a marketing point of view to the organisation as a whole in an age of increasing store to consumer shipping.
Of course to undertake these evaluations needs one thing in particular. Manpower..!
Central risk/feasibility assessments will not cut the mustard. It has to be done on a store by store basis and quickly, because nobody can afford dead weight right now. Of course one of the incongruous effects of an increased threat from COVID-19 has been the diminution of risk management departments. Many will not have the manpower or expertise spare to undertake this new risk assessment program within a commercially sensible period of time.
This is where a risk assessment service from a security solutions provider, such as Amberstone Security, can be a godsend. You get your full feasibility assessment, or consultative support and in record time together with expertise accumulated from working on thousands of locations, not just the experience of your own team. And the company obviously provides that because it provides it with an opportunity to demonstrate how in your specific circumstances they can drive down current costs and perhaps offer a better service. But is that really such a bad thing!?!
If you are affected by the above issues and would like free assistance in re-assessing all or part of your estate, or just desire consultative support then please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
In any case, we hope this information supports thought leadership within your organisation.