Covid-19 News

Twelve months on… What the “dickens” have we learned?

As the country marks the anniversary of the first lockdown, we reflect on how the past can inform risk management in the future.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

In a Tale of Two Cities, Dickens was contrasting the fortunes of life in Paris and London. However, in a way I think this opening for the book is an apt description of the last 12 months…

On the one hand it has been a long and hard slog. Day after day bad news, changing news and no news. What was always in short supply was good news.

Planning was virtually impossible. And obviously, being an essential part of our customers’ operations, Amberstone was always at the very centre of planning; successfully dealing with the latest challenges that customers faced – often reacting circumstances changing swiftly from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.

I don’t think we have ever worked harder.

However, then neither do I think that we have ever been more inventive. The daily creativity required to deal with events stretched everyone to the limit. I was often reminded of the saying “The impossible we do at once. Miracles take a little longer.”

There simply have not been enough hours in the day to get everything done, and yet we all have. It is said that “creativity loves constraints.” And from that perspective 12 months has flown by. And already the world seems a very different…

More people are receiving their coronavirus vaccines and optimism about the economic recovery is increasing. Add in a little spring sunshine and the world seems to be in a much more positive place than it was six months ago. So now the shift in emphasis is to look forward – to try to anticipate what is to come, how the recovery will unfold and the challenges we are likely to meet along the way.

Regular readers will know that over the previous 12 months we have made a number of predictions. Many retailers have said that they found these insights both prescient and helpful in formulating their strategies to deal with rapidly changing events. 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.

We urged retailers to undertake risk assessments at individual store level (rather than head office) to get a proper understanding of how new risks were going to impact individual stores when they reopened post lockdown. As we predicted, overnight some stores (and sadly, some long-established businesses too) became commercially unviable in a Covid safe environment.

As anticipated, the reopening of stores in a socially distanced era 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. And the swap by many to online shopping, at least for the time being, would tend to indicate we were right on this point too.

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 to the highest levels ever seen.

So, what about the future… What next?

I predict that creativity will come to the fore in the coming months and years. The ability to think outside of the usual constraints will drive innovation in our industry and success…

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 entire 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.

The high street will play a vital part in the omni-channel retail industry. Shops are not going away. However, their role will change to places where people are immersed in the brand experience, getting them to buy into the values of the brand. Shops will also gain traction as fulfilment hubs, dealing with orders already placed, and returns.

This week the government has announced a £56M fund to “spruce up” the high street. Whilst the amount of money will probably not make much of a difference (the ONS defines a high street as a street with a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres. By that definition we have around 7,000 high streets in Great Britain. So, the fund equates to an AVERAGE of £8K per high street), the policy is itself significant. It represents a simple realisation…

People will not return to the high street unless the shopping experience is a good one. I am not referring to what goes on in-store here. I am talking about the actual environment that is the visit to the high street for physical shoppers. I see a future where retailers not only share resources from a risk management perspective, but also where third party security providers utilise both publicly and privately owned assets in order to make the high street a safe and enjoyable place to be. And that includes working with BIDs, BCRPs, counselling services, neighbourhood watch groups – all stakeholders with an interest or obligation to make our high streets a better place. And beyond that, what about city wide collaboration.

As cities compete to be more consumer friendly, better places to live and more sustainable why should all of the above not come together to not simply make high streets a better place to visit and to live, but a whole city. All stakeholders collaborating through one integrated approach. All working towards one common goal.

That really would make for “the best of times,” wouldn’t it.

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