Covid-19 News

Season’s meetings! “Christmas this year is going to be different.” And not just for the public…

A lengthening parade of health experts, politicians and celebrities are being deployed, all to extol the virtues of social restraint at Christmas. This year it is not about people eating too much. Actually it is about them meeting too much…
As we exit lockdown on 2nd December the public have been given strict rules as to with whom they can celebrate Christmas this year. Opinion seems divided. Some feel it is a step too far, stoking up more Covid misery for the New Year. Others are saying that they intend to flout the rules, but more on that later.

Arguably attention is on the wrong issue. It is not the Christmas holiday period itself that is going to present the biggest challenges. Actually it is the weeks between the end of the current lockdown and Christmas that are going to be the most difficult…

Retail may have underestimated the problems it is about to face

The Government’s announcement that the National Minimum Wage (being confused with the National Living Wage on the website at the time of writing!) will increase in April ‘21 by 2.2% is not the Christmas present retailers wanted.

Many retailers have not traded properly for most of the year and any increase in costs is the last thig they want. And whilst at 2.2% that may look like a 19p per hour increase, once you have taken into account the costs of holiday, pension and sickness benefits it will be more like 25p per hour. So retailers will already be scrambling for their budgets to see what can be done now to mitigate the effects of this increase in the New Year.

However, for the immediate future, there are even more urgent challenges to be met.

Speaking to some retailers they seem to greet the prospect of resumed trading with nonchalance. Many are not opening until the 3rd December, so they have time to get everything prepared to receive customers. Then it’s business as usual within a socially distanced environment. However, I think they may have underestimated the problems that they are about to face, and so I hope this article gives pause for thought.

Whilst in lockdown, people have been planning their Christmas. Black Friday, which in reality lasts at least two weeks these days, has stoked up demand for bargain hunters; many are furloughed with time on their hands to comb the offers and bag as many bargains as they can. Of course not all of these purchases will be successful. Some items will only be available to collect.

Roads you can bet will be heavily congested and car parks will be rammed

And so as we come out of lockdown there is going to be a rush of consumers collecting and returning items. This Black Friday backlog is going to collide with those on a  mission to get their Christmas shopping done, exacerbating the crowding issue. Normally Christmas shoppers organise things over the ten weeks leading up to Christmas. This year they have just three weeks to get it all done. And that is going to mean utter carnage on the high street…

Public transport is seen as less safe than driving your own private vehicle for obvious Covid related reasons. For the first time I can remember we are going to be encouraging people to get their cars on the road rather than use public transport. The first thing this will lead to is unbelievable traffic congestion. Roads you can bet will be heavily congested and car parks will be rammed. Tempers will flare and confrontations had with other drivers and figures of authority. And we have not even got into the stores yet!

If you are operating a click and collect service then you need to give serious consideration to how your car park is going to function, with more people than you ever imagined trying to park in it whilst simultaneously people are queuing in their cars for their click and collect. Remember what we have said before about backlogs of traffic affecting your neighbours.

Traffic tailbacks can effectively gridlock car parks, towns and even motorway infrastructure where industrial estates are located adjacent to them – and of course many are! So whilst your part of the island may be able to contain 20 queuing vehicles, what happens when you suddenly get 200 or 1,000. And if you don’t think that can happen, just look at the issues around McDonalds restaurants once they re-opened after the last lockdown… people queued for hours in hundreds of cars, just to get a meal feted for being “fast food”!

Slips, trips and falls are down to you, even though they occur in a common area

When it comes to queuing we must also remember that there will be issues around capacity at stores. Many shops will need to employ queuing outside their premises. Remember that you may not own the land that you are organising the queue on, but you do own the problem. Socially distanced queuing outside your store is your responsibility. Slips, trips and falls, any “incidents” are down to you, even though they may occur in a common area.

And you had better start to liaise with adjacent stores in shopping malls about how all the queuing is going to work. Because you can easily find yourself forming queues in the midst of walkways, with thousands of stampeding shoppers on their way to other stores. Equally you could find the store next door to you queuing across your store front and preventing your customers from accessing your queues.

And we are only talking here about the logistics of how to manage all of these people and vehicles. We have not even mentioned giving a quality of customer journey. We are talking about people management not shopping experiences. And right there lies another problem…

Unfortunately this year Christmas cheer could be in relatively short supply

Usually at this time of year we ease the stress on the shopper by finding fun ways to distract people from the hassle of queuing for everything and actually impart to them a bit of Christmas cheer. “Oh so the queue to pay is 45 minutes long… It’s Christmas!” So I had to queue for an hour to get into the car park… So what. It is Christmas!” Unfortunately this year good cheer could be in relatively short supply.

Many of the staff interactions, giveaways and seasonal niceties that retailers usually employ, to add to the special Christmas feeling and to distract their customers from the hassle of so many people trying to make purchases all at the same time will be missing or severely curtailed this year due to Covid restrictions. Shoppers not so distracted from frustrations of overcrowding means that tempers in store could well flare, as people become inpatient and frustrated.

Some retailers have literally doubled the number of hours they want our guards

As I said at the beginning some retailers seem to think that the next few weeks aren’t going to be a particularly big stretch. However, I can reveal that some essential retailers have literally doubled the number of hours they want our guards in place nationally – that’s tens of thousands of additional hours of guarding – over the next few weeks. This is  specifically because they anticipate the need for additional security to protect all stakeholders. And that includes extra resource for maintaining social distancing to prevent the spread pf the virus. Which brings me to my final point…

I alluded to the government restrictions placed upon social gatherings over Christmas and choices people would be making about whether to ignore them or to make their Christmas fit within them.

Personally I have a six year old daughter at school every day and she has grandparents in their 70’s. Are the next few weeks about staying within the rules or doing everything possible to just stay safe?

I know what we will be doing. I fear the public may not have reached the same conclusion…

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