Covid-19 News

Looking to the future is a thing of the past

What matters is not the “new” normal in retail, it is the “NOW” normal!

Retailers have welcomed our prescient insights during lockdown. So here is what we think post lockdown risk management is going to look like and how retailers can adapt…

Just look at the casualties. Big names.

Retailers with outstanding track records such as Boots, House of Fraser and Debenhams find themselves struggling to adapt in a radically changing retail environment. Even a beloved institution such as Harrods is not immune.

And perhaps reading this you shake your head and think “there but for the grace of God go I.” But it is not about having good fortune. It is businesses that most rapidly embrace the paradigm shifts in retail that have the best chances of succeeding. And it is exactly the nature of those changes that we want to address, what they mean and the options for dealing with them.

Since March we have been offering our view of how retail was going to change in the wake of Covid. Many retailers have said that these insights were helpful in formulating their strategies to either stay open or re-open in a “brave, new world of retail.” And because in protecting the interests of tens of thousands of stakeholders at hundreds of sites every day we amass fresh, experiential data from across the retail spectrum – we have great data to draw upon when looking for likely trends…

We predicted the civil unrest around the Black Lives Matter movement with Antifas at its core. OK, we did not see the looting that we anticipated. But it was a close run thing, with Retail very exposed and the under-resourced Police having to adopt a very low key role.

Months ago we urged retailers not to undertake risk assessments based upon a central office process, but to go down to individual store level to get a proper understanding of how new risks were going to impact individual stores. As we predicted, overnight some stores became commercially unviable in a Covid safe environment.

As anticipated, the reopening of stores in a socially distanced environment saw unprecedented levels of queuing. We pointed out that people would not patronise stores if the experience was unpleasant and they did not have to, no matter how secure they felt. Online is now rising by 30% pa and many believe that those who have adopted online shopping during the pandemic will not easily return to stores. The customer experience has been sacrificed in the name of a Covid secure environment.

We highlighted the reality that many retailers would not be able to force people queuing to remove their face masks, so that suspected criminals could be identified. We also correctly anticipated the no-win situation retailers would find themselves in with regard to challenging shoplifters and ejecting them from shop premises, even after committing crimes. Retailers have been struggling to adapt their practices. Incidents of verbal and physical assaults on staff have been increasing.

As I say, having access to thousands of interactions with consumers in hundreds of business locations every single day gives us terrific data to draw upon. So here are our insights into what retailers will NOW need to come to grips with:

  • All friction points in the customer journey will be identified as risks and renewed efforts made to improve the overall experience. For example, customers wanting to simply return an item are still being expected to queue with all other shoppers. How would you feel at being forced to queue for perhaps an hour or so in order to claim money for a defective or unsuitable product? People will not return to shops in numbers unless this is dealt with.
  • Retailers will have to publish condition of entry policies. These policies will stipulate that if people will not remove their masks in a safe environment, to allow them to be identified, then they will not be allowed into the stores. It will empower security staff to do their jobs and stop undesirable individuals from entering their store.
  • As retailers embrace the mandatory wearing of face masks within stores, decisions must be made about how to remove people not wearing a mask. Within stores, security teams and staff will have to be trained to deal with crime in the Covid era, including how to tackle customers committing criminal acts who profess to be infected. Training and documentation will be critically important.
  • Retailers will increasingly adopt off balance sheet solutions for the provision of their security infrastructure. Instead of owning the technology, retailers will pay for access to technology with one provider making sure that all of the systems used are integrated to work effectively across the estate. Security providers will become the security integrators of the future and retailers will simply pay for their security on a daily basis, with costs being split between competing retailers who want to operate within a secured shopping destination.
  • With store closures, declining footfall and large scale redundancies on the horizon, there will likely be a rise in crime inversely proportional to the budgets and resources available to deal with it. Retailers will simply not be able to effectively manage risk and fight crime as individual businesses. Instead resources will have to be pooled to be affordable and effective. Community Security schemes offer an attractive way forward. Loss prevention “on demand” will provide an affordable, scalable solution. Retailers will pay based upon the level of risk they bring as a business. The complete integration of technology will drive down manning costs and increase efficiencies for all.

I know from conversations with some retailers that it is tempting to simply stick your head in the sand, and to pretend that by Christmas everything will be the same as it was before the pandemic. But it won’t.

The issues outlined above do not just relate to the challenges brought by Covid-19. Most relate to more fundamental changes in the way in which risk management was going to have to adapt eventually due to fundamental changes in consumer behaviour and expectations. The pandemic simply accelerated the rate of change.

And that is why we can end this article with a message of hope. All of the new challenges outlined above have already been dealt with by Amberstone as a leading security technology partner. If you accept that any or all of the new challenges will affect your business, then just one phone call can get the ball rolling to provide a solution. And it costs nothing to ask…

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