Why is security important in retail and can it save the high street?

Retailers provide the best online and physical shopping environments for their customers with security being a major factor in ensuring a safe, secure, seamless experience. So why is security often a standalone budget option that isn’t part of the customer journey?

Decisive action is now needed in our high streets if they are to have a future.

Currently, retailers find themselves in a no-win situation when challenging criminals and ejecting them from shop premises. They are struggling to adapt their practices to secure stock, reduce violence and keep staff safe, made harder by the highest levels of verbal and physical assaults ever recorded.

So, what’s the answer? Though there isn’t a singular catch-all approach, there are avenues open for exploration. One of those roads leads to an integrated, security-driven customer experience.

A speculative peak into the future

It’s not unwise to predict that creativity will come to the fore in the coming months and years It’ll take unconstrained thinking to drive innovation in our industry and find success.

Here’s what Dan Hardy, Managing Director at Amberstone Security predicts:

Retailers will increasingly adopt ‘off balance sheet’ solutions to provide their security infrastructure. Instead of owning their technology, retailers will pay for access to technology with a single security provider, who will ensure all systems integrate to work effectively across the entire estate.

Security providers will become the ‘security integrators’ of the future, with retailers paying for security resources day-to-day. They’ll split costs between competing retailers who want to operate within a secured shopping destination.

Store closures, declining footfall, and large-scale redundancies will still be possible, so there will likely be a rise in crime inversely proportional to the budgets and resources available to deal with it.

Operating separately, retailers won’t have the resources to manage risk and fight crime efficiently. Instead, Community Security schemes with pooled resources will become the norm to make security affordable and effective. ‘On-demand’ loss prevention services will also provide an affordable, scalable solution, meaning retailers will only pay based on the level of risk they attract.

But it is the complete integration of technology that will drive down staffing and operating costs, thereby increasing efficiencies for all.

In this, the high street will play a vital part in the omnichannel retail industry. While shops will not disappear altogether, their role will change. Brick-and-mortar stores will become experiential destinations – three-dimensional, immersive celebrations of brand core values. Functionally, they’ll also gain traction as fulfilment hubs, dealing with returns and orders placed via numerous touchpoints.

Can it – and will it – happen?

Last year, the Government announced a £56M fund to “spruce up” the high street. Consider though, that the ONS defines a high street as “a street with a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres”. By that definition, with around 7,000 high streets in Great Britain, that £56M fund equates to an average of just £8K per high street.

Now, while the amount of money is unlikely to make much difference, the existence of the policy itself is significant in that it highlights a major realisation:

People will not return to the high street unless the shopping experience is good.

I am not referring to what happens in-store, rather the environment of the visit to the broader high street. There is a potential future where retailers share risk management resources and third-party security providers use publicly and privately owned assets to make the high street safe and enjoyable. That includes working with BIDs, BCRPs, counselling services, neighbourhood watch groups – all of them stakeholders with an interest or obligation to make our high streets better places.

Beyond that, it includes full city-wide collaboration. As cities compete to become more consumer-friendly, better places to live and more sustainable, it isn’t just high streets that transform into better places to visit and live, but a whole city. All because stakeholders collaborate on an integrated approach towards one common goal. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

Here’s a question: What is going to happen to affect the transformation of our high streets? In other words, how do we make them relevant to the new, improved brick-and-mortar shopping experience that people will justify worth venturing out for, rather than from behind their laptops, tablets and phones?

The only way I can see to adequately rejuvenate the high streets of this country – so physical stores can play their part in an omnichannel retail model – is if private enterprise takes the lead. After all, it is retailers that provide the best online and physical shopping environments. So why not let them take over the collaborative running of our high streets too?

The Retailer Operated High Street

An evolved high street offers terrific possibilities. Take the new strategy of online retailers as an example – they’re already embracing bricks-and-mortar. Notably, Amazon is opening self-serve stores, and other online retailers are investing too. For years, online retail experiences forced high street retailers to up their game online. Now, online is leading the race once again, moving into the realm of high street retailers to take existing players head-on with a full arsenal of technical know-how, customer data and creativity.

Also, look at how online retailers are buying up high street brands. Boohoo and ASOS recently acquired brands from Debenhams and divvied up the remnants of Arcadia’s former empire. Next, straddling the online and high street spaces, have secured a significant stake in upscale clothing and accessories fashion brand Reiss, which has around 160 stores. There are even rumours circling about various businesses eyeing the purchase of health and beauty giant Boots. These, and other retailers, are taking over the management of brand names. From there, it’s not difficult to imagine them assuming brand management of the high street as well. After all, it is all part of their shopping environment – the experiential element of their customers’ journeys.

High streets of the future

There are possibilities here. In years to come, it’s not a stretch to picture the high street as a kind of department store, with shops clustered around it like departments.

Currently, retailers only deal with what goes on in their stores. But are the BIDs and the BCRPs, together with Police, councils and third-party schemes, delivering on making the high street a great shopping experience? Think about alcohol use, drug use and homelessness in and around high streets. Pre-pandemic it was not good. Chances are that post-pandemic we’ll pick up right where we left off – or worse.

It’s safe to say that online retailers will use the same tech-driven approach used successfully online to their physical stores. The traditional retail giants like Sainsbury’s will follow in their wake with its futuristic tech-enabled stores. The question is whether they’re equipped to respond to changes in high street risks – especially regarding escalating attacks on stores and personnel.

How will they deal with that? Will unstaffed stores have the incongruous presence of permanent security guards? Or will they utilise an LP On-Demand model, meaning LP resources – suitably trained, equipped and supported with personnel and technology – are only present when needed?

Only time will tell. Eventually though, behavioural analytics and personal data could become an immense driver behind this tech-driven approach. It’ll enable retailers to personalise the experience for individuals who visit their stores, creating a consistent and seamless omnichannel experience.

Even better, let all the retailers share in its operation so all can reap the benefits. Like a smart city, such an approach could yield a completely different and personalised shopping experience – and one that would make a visit to the high street a vastly more experiential and positive trip.

Visions of a tech-enabled, data-driven high street experience

Just imagine it – with the high street now a shared retail resource, your experience would begin the moment you park. You pay for your parking on your phone and instantly receive a promotional ticket offering you free parking that day if you spend over a certain amount during your visit.

As you enter the high street, facial recognition logs your presence. You receive special offer alerts and personalised discount vouchers at stores you frequent, based on your past visitor and buying habits.

You arrive at a store – having pre-ordered clothing online to try out in-store – to find a changing booth reserved in your name and the item already inside… because recognition tech notified the staff of your approach their store.

You’re just there to try on the clothing, having opted to do so when you purchased online. Not happy with the fit, you return the instantly goods on-site. Based on your feedback, alternative sizes, designs and colours are suggested. You decline, and your card is refunded immediately. It’s a hassle-free return process and no wait time for a credit note. A superior customer experience and simple stock control for the retailer.

Upon leaving, you have an item to return elsewhere, so head to a Return Hub used by multiple retailers to facilitate shipping back to the seller. You also have an Amazon parcel to collect, having elected to have it delivered to the hub. You can either choose to keep the item, in which case there is no issue for the retailer around returns fraud, or you can leave it, and the return will be processed immediately. Again, a hassle-free experience for you. Simple stock control for the retailer.

Visions like this are entirely possible – and probable. As consumer high street journeys are tracked and optimised, retailers are collecting data. Not just around what consumers respond to, but also how they navigate the high street. What catches their attention? Where are people spending the most time in the high street? This could all seamlessly merge with data monitoring the transition from high street to individual store and subsequent buyer behaviour. You could track the efficacy of marketing at one end of the high street right the way through to the tills.

Armed with this data, retailers could customise and create relevant experiences designed to suit individual or family preferences. It would be a marketer’s dream.

The question remains; how does security factor into this tech-enabled, data-driven high street?

Security on the tech-enabled, data-driven high street

These data-driven insights also create opportunities to engage in effective, targeted security for the high street. Alongside monitoring your presence, your location and the location of known offenders who might harm you are also monitored. By bringing together retailers, BIDs, BCRPs, Police, etc., it’s possible to monitor those who should be actively diverted from the high street. Armed with this knowledge, tactics can be deployed to deter known criminals from entering shops and other venues.

From a resource standpoint, this is a win-win, because you can have security response deployed to high-risk areas as and when they’re needed. In this way, the resources just follow and manage the risks, meaning retailers only pay for the risk management they use. This is opposed to the retailer making their own arrangements, which carries with it the inevitable built-in cost of obsolescence. Instead, bigger stores or troublesome consumer segments become the fiscal responsibility of that retailer.

Most importantly, it would transform the shopping experience, safety and security of consumer while reducing risks for retailers. Such a shopping experience would then drive prosperity and sales.

Back to our current reality

However – we’re certainly not there yet. Not any variation of this future, if we ever will be. As it currently stands, the high street is in desperate need of rejuvenation if physical stores are to play any part in the future of retail.

Even the Government recognises it. The problem is their current measure of recognition is calculated at around just £8K per high street – barely enough to ‘spruce up’ a high street with a few decorative trivialities, let alone funding to a revolutionary transformation.

And that’s what’s needed – a revolution for the high street. Something must change. And whatever that change looks like, could bring either a bold, safe and positive rejuvenation for British high streets…

Or it could bring about their end.


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