Security and the retail experience: Returning to the high street
Much like a return to the workplace, in-store shopping offers something that its online equivalent cannot – an experience. But this will be muted somewhat with a hyper awareness of personal safety and – for many – an anxiety of suddenly being in large crowds once again.
Security officers have been at the front and centre of our limited retail experience throughout the pandemic and will continue to play a vital role.
The pandemic has created five years’ worth of internet sales growth and five years of high-street decline in a single year. That is according to Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association. That prediction doesn’t look hopeful for retailers. However, on closer inspection, the situation may not be so simple as a migration online. Primark, a huge name on the high street, refused to move online and took a hit to sales through both lockdowns as a result. However, when it reopened, sales soared above what had been predicted.
Forbes has suggested that we may see “revenge shopping”– customers making up for lost time and enjoying newly earned freedom after the lockdown – and the statistics for Primark suggest this may well be the case. However, to effectively cater to shoppers, organisations must understand what will draw them back to the high street.
Creating an experience
After a year of isolation, getting back out into towns and cities is about more than being able to shop, for most. The freedom brings with it a sense of autonomy and an opportunity to meet friends and catch up. Browsing in shops is no longer necessary, so those choosing to visit shops rather than order online will do so for the whole experience. Those who don’t go out to shop may still be tempted to browse after visiting a coffee shop or hairdressers. But shoppers will only choose to do so if they feel safe.
Research suggests that almost half of shoppers are still uncomfortable about returning to the high street. To allow shoppers to relax and enjoy the retail experience, retailers must go above and beyond to demonstrate the precautions they are taking. While sanitising surfaces is a vital precaution, it doesn’t offer added reassurance unless it is done in front of shoppers. Instead, safety precautions have to be clearly visible.
Security officers have played a front of house role throughout the pandemic. They have been central to maintaining safety precautions by managing occupancy, taking temperatures, enforcing mask-wearing, and maintaining social distancing. With a greater focus than ever on retail as an experience, front-of-house staff will be at the heart of welcoming shoppers back. They will work to reassure shoppers, ensure their safety, and create an excellent retail experience.
Officers have already moved into more front-of-house roles, continuously interacting with customers, offering reassurance as well as safety. They have had to use empathy to deal with anxious shoppers while also being strict on rules to keep everyone safe. Excellent people skills have become a core part of the security officer role and will only become more so as in-person shopping becomes common once again.
Upgrading the tech
Technology has become indispensable in protecting against COVID, and many retailers will find that effective technology is vital in attracting shoppers back. Touch-free options and temperature sensors are already being introduced. While COVID precautions such as taking temperatures may not be permanent, we will undoubtedly have a more hygiene-conscious society after COVID. Touch-free systems will likely become the norm. Many organisations are already creating apps that make a touch-free experience possible.
Occupancy sensors and automated screens to tell shoppers when they can enter a shop or public toilet can streamline the experience. Making these technologies commonplace will help to keep people safe, reassure anxious shoppers and remind those who are less anxious to take care. These sensors can also be used to collect occupancy data and allow retailers to better predict trends in footfall.
Such technology will have just as important a role in the retail experience as security officers. The role that officers once filled as visual deterrents can be – in part – filled by technology such as security cameras and sensors that will also collect data and inform retailers’ staffing needs. By taking on some of the work traditionally filled by manned-guarding, this tech frees officers to better fill the role that technology can’t – customer service.
Combining both tech and excellent front-of- house services is the key to streamlining the retail experience. If well-designed, retail security systems can offer data insights and define the post-COVID way of shopping.
Revisiting existing processes
While tech offers a new way forward for lots of retailers, there are still existing processes that need to be re-examined. Many retailers are opening their doors for the first time in months and processes that made sense before might not any more. In addition, staff may need to be re-trained.
Security officers have been playing a big part in crowd control right from the first lockdown, including in-store occupancy and queues outside. There’s a risk that lockdown fatigue, combined with a strong vaccination programme, may give customers a false sense of security and see them fail to follow COVID protocols. Security officers need to be kept informed of store policies on occupancy levels and how to enforce COVID procedures.
Refreshers on emergency evacuation policies and first aid training would not go amiss either. These would usually have been happening if a store had stayed open and it’s important to stay on top of these policies for the safety of staff and customers.
There is no denying that COVID has brought changes to the high street, but it has far from rung the death knell for retailers. It may have accelerated a move to online shopping for now, but it has also reminded the public of the joys of getting out, browsing, and spending time with friends. Physical retail has a huge amount to offer as long as it is able to adapt to the times.