Adopting a safe and efficient roadmap out of lockdown for non-essential retailers

For many, the reopening of non-essential retail has been a welcomed move, so much so, that millions of consumers have been flocking back to the high street causing long queues to form.

And while this next step of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown provides hope to all of those high street businesses that have suffered economic loss throughout the pandemic, Tom Downes, CEO, Quail Digital, explains how retailers must prioritise staff safety and wellbeing while efficiently managing customer demand.

Prioritising safety and staff wellbeing

With most retail stores operating with reduced numbers of staff to ensure compliance with guidelines, and given the huge financial losses that retailers have faced, it’s expected that many will also continue to utilise the Government’s furlough scheme for its employees, which has been confirmed to last until at least September.

There is no doubt that those who are returning to their jobs will be apprehensive about operating with fewer team members while trying to manage customer expectations and demand - many of whom have been effectively cooped up for months. As witnessed throughout the pandemic, many essential retail workers have reported increased levels of abuse and violence and thus impact on their mental health.

Therefore, arming all non-essential retail employees with the tools they need to feel safe, while providing an efficient in-store customer experience is crucial when it comes to supporting their mental health and wellbeing, keeping them safe and reducing the possibilities of crime. 

And it is good communication that holds the key. Providing employees with integrated wireless headsets, for example, ensures all members of staff are in permanent communication - with each other and in some cases remotely with head offices - which can transform staff confidence and engagement. This is particularly crucial given that many staff will be experiencing higher levels of anxiety as they transition back into the workplace. , Shop floors are also likely to have been rearranged to support a more friendly Covid-safe environment, and previous roles among colleagues may have been adjusted, all of which add to a sense of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. 

But, through the adoption of improved communication systems, every individual returning to the workplace, irrespective of experience, can be far more confident, knowing that the entire team is tuned in and can respond to any query, while adapting to unfamiliar territory and respecting social distancing rules. Empowering employees to communicate more effectively encourages a sense of team connectedness, and after a prolonged period of absence of not working together, it will play an important role in boosting colleague relations and morale. It’s clear that improving communication can have a positive impact on employee emotional wellbeing which should be a critical consideration for retailers, not just during the pandemic, but the future too.

In-store efficiencies 

A fluid approach to store associate activity also enables efficient retail operations by reallocating individuals on the fly in response to evolving needs – from responding to specific customer questions to restocking shelves, fulfilling a click and collect order or operating the check-outs. Indeed, a spokesperson from Home Bargains explains: “Operational efficiency and helping customers is very important to us here at Home Bargains. Our wireless headsets are helping them to manage customer expectations and handle enquiries with ease.” 

Improving employee communication means that managers can optimise staff numbers and minimise unproductive time, doing more with less. With the Coronavirus pandemic causing huge dents to retailers’ profits and with social distancing likely to be in place for the foreseeable (indeed, nearly two-thirds of shoppers want social distancing and/or face masks to stay in place even after the pandemic) retailers must consider the benefits of unlocking efficiencies not just in the immediate future, but also in the long term. 

Reducing crime

In response to the rising levels of abuse targeted at shop workers, backed by the entire retail industry and the Home Office; the #ShopKind campaign is encouraging all shoppers to ‘be mindful of retail staff’s work over the past year and treat them with respect, kindness and gratitude.’ While this is a welcomed campaign, relying on the goodwill of the public alone is not an effective strategy. Trust in policing is low; research shows that 70% of retailers see police response as poor or very poor, so what more can be done to improve employee confidence and reduce crime?

The majority of store associates perceive headset-based communication as an enabler – not only to facilitate more efficient ways of working and faster customer response but also keeping them safe and reducing crime. Shoplifters are deterred by the fact that staff can immediately communicate their concerns to colleagues and gain instant support: 44% of retail shoplifting offenders said that if an employee paid attention to them while they were committing theft, it would deter them. In addition, just as headsets deter shoplifting, the fact that store staff are immediately in touch with security experts and, by default, the police, could also act as a deterrent to those with more violent intent. Communication has the ability to bring a sense of solidarity when crime is happening, ensuring employees do not feel alone - this is particularly important given the current low levels of trust in police response. 

Conclusion

All non-essential retailers have an important role to play when it comes to supporting employee safety and wellbeing, particularly during times of uncertainty where anxiety levels are higher and customer demand is increasing. But retailers must also consider the long term benefits; clear communication systems help to support those on the shopfloor by enabling them to work in a more efficient manner with fewer employees. Moreover, ensuring all employees are digitally connected with each other and the correct security personnel not only deters criminals but instills reassurance and confidence among those on the shopfloor.

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