Re-therapizing retail therapy
The heat is on as Amberstone Technology's Dan Hardy reviews business resumption and takes the temperature of a possible summer of discontent.
Business resumption is the hot topic of the moment.
In the world's of loss prevention and health and safety, social distancing has become the new normal as businesses must demonstrate it before they can re-open, at least until such time as a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and made widely available.
Occupancy levels and temperature checks have become part of this new normal as existing technology is adapted to meet the challenges. CCTV has the ability to monitor body temperatures of staff and customers entering premises, while people counting solutions have been re-purposed to measure occupancy and capacity levels to maintain social distance.
“In DCs, random searches of staff have been transformed into routine people screening,” said Dan Hardy, Amberstone Technology’s strategy and transformation director.
“With one client we are using handheld temperature screening extensively, with 2000 people a day being tested as they enter and leave premises.”
Amberstone, which provides thermal screening through mounted dome cameras as well as handheld devices, carries out the tests and has resorted to sending staff home if their temperatures remain high after a 15-minute period of rest.
“They could be hot because they have run upstairs or late for work, for example,” said Hardy.
“However, skin temperature can be a dangerous guide, albeit a useful starting point. It does not, for example, account for those who are asymptomatic and are spreading the virus without showing any symptoms themselves, so nothing is fool proof.”
The former managing director of the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS) who is standing as an independent candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, argues that as a result of drastic lockdown measures another kind of heat could see a perfect storm for discontent.
“Social distancing means the description 'convenience store' is now an oxymoron,” he said.
“As the weather heats up, so will tempers. One only has to look at the dramatic increase of verbal and physical assaults on retail staff to see how fraught serving the increasingly impatient and frustrated British public is becoming, with an average of 424 incidents of physical or verbal abuse being inflicted upon retail staff every day.
The Met Office is currently forecasting one of the warmest years on record, and I fear that Britain could be set for a hot summer of discontent – civil disobedience not seen since the London Riots in 2011.”
Overstocking could also become a catalyst for crime, Hardy argues.
“Should tempers flare and civil disobedience erupt, it’s always accompanied by widespread looting - and right now shops are packed to the gunnels with inventory.”
“At the heart of the solution is customer service. For many, the 'pleasure' of retail therapy is not something they can see themselves returning to any time soon. So, given that the situation is tough for retailers and customers alike, a focus on how to make the experience easier and better for each customer is a good starting point.
“I doubt structural changes alone can reasonably be used within a store to create a COVID-friendly environment for all, so people need to have explained to them how the store now works for them to have the best experience and what to do in situations with which they are unfamiliar, such as not being able to go back down an aisle because they forgot an item they wanted to purchase.
“Queuing is something the British are said to be excellent at. However, queuing also has the negative connotation of shortages and hardship when it’s involuntary. However, I’ve lost count of how many friends and family have returned from Disney theme parks telling me how brilliant it was to queue for an hour to enjoy a ride lasting less than five minutes! Why? Because Disney goes out of its way to make queuing part of their entertainment experience, and every retailer should be looking at queues with the same eye for an opportunity to turn a big negative into a positive.
“Retailers could use the opportunity to improve engagement, from information about store opening times to stock levels and sale items.
“Multiple pressure points could foreseeably lead to widespread civil disobedience and a difficult summer for retailers. However, it’s not inevitable and up to retailers to do their bit to try and prevent it.”