Following the latest national lockdown announcement, supermarkets have yet again come under additional strain, as customers rushed to book deliveries, with timeslots being booked up for weeks in advance.
Once more a rapid switch to panic buying is set to test consumer patience in store. An overlooked result of the new measures, staff are now likely to be subject to higher levels of customer abuse, a repeat of the issue that was a highly regrettable consequence for retailers of the original lockdown last year.
Although the issue of safety and security in retail is nothing new, it has risen to the fore afresh with growing concerns in the sector, especially in convenience and grocery. Consequently, retail bosses need to take swift preventative action to protect their staff who continue to deliver on shopper expectations and experience, despite the increasingly volatile retail environment. All too often some customers forget that shop assistants are part of the frontline of workers keeping the country running during the ongoing health crisis.
Disappointingly, this can manifest in physical and verbal abuse that makes an often-challenging job even tougher. VoCoVo research found that almost a third (32%) of retail staff say they have suffered from physical abuse from customers during the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly half (48%) have experienced verbal abuse. Additionally, according to the British Retail Consortium’s annual crime survey, retail violence has been growing with 424 incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers taking place every day.
Not only can incidents cause staff physical injuries, but a report by City, University of London suggests many workers are experiencing mental health consequences as a result of violent store crime. So, what needs to be done and how can retailers go about protecting their staff this lockdown?
Protecting staff from COVID-19 and customer abuse
To manage the increased risks currently faced by retail workers, organisations must adopt new initiatives to safeguard their employees. Retailers can both protect staff and reduce violence by putting in measures that actively increase safety and support staff to feel secure in their workplace. Ultimately, the right response comes down to making shop workers feel empowered and giving them a quick and easy method of summoning help when they need it.
The shop floor can feel like a lonely place in some retail environments and with footfall restricted in all stores and some supermarkets operating a one customer per trolley policy, workers will be looking for ways of interacting with colleagues whilst socially distant. Bosses should be encouraging safe forms of communication wherever possible and technology can play a major role in enabling many workers to stay in contact, even when physically separated. Communication technology enables colleagues to constantly feel close and connected while having to manage customers at the store entrance, queues at tills and maintaining stock on shelves.
By providing teams with such technology, if a retail worker is ever faced with abuse or threatening behaviour, they can quickly and discreetly notify colleagues and ask for immediate help. Even just wearing a device can act as a deterrent for people to commit crime or abuse, because customers do not know who staff are communicating with.
The concerning rising number of cases of COVID-19 means that the need for enforcing social distancing is now more important than ever. Retailers should consider adopting innovative technologies within their stores such as live streaming body worn cameras and traffic light entry systems, which only allows customers into the store when capacity allows.
With the latest lockdown set to be enforced for several months to come, now is the time for retailers to ensure their employees are protected and valued, taking all the steps necessary to keep them safe, well informed and connected.
Martyn Jones, CCO, VoCoVo