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The period from October to December, widely referred to as the golden quarter, is when many retailers plan to deliver the majority of their annual sales. With the expectation of an influx of Christmas shoppers, preparing window displays and running promotional campaigns are among the primary activities, in addition to making sure that appropriate safety and security precautions are taken.

But Covid-19 has meant a very different year for our retail industry. Many months of closure were followed by a need to carefully manage health and safety as doors cautiously reopened on a new world of mask-wearing compliance, social-distancing regulations and occupancy thresholds.

Additional signage and the training of all customer service and operations teams to follow the correct protocols has meant that many stores have been able to function successfully, albeit at reduced capacity. Yet the anticipated increase in shoppers throughout the coming months, and the predicted seasonal increase in retail crime, presents many challenges at a time when retailers are mired in the additional measures that Covid-19 makes necessary.

This is where advancements in technology can play a significant role in helping both operations and security teams in the coming months and beyond while freeing up retail teams to spend more time with the customer.

Store managers must be prepared for the threat of theft

Deter but prepare for unplanned events. The allure of store shelves and distribution depots packed with valuable products presents an enticing prospect for criminals, meaning that any deterrent must be highly effective. Store managers not only have to consider the threat from criminals, but also the potential of theft by a store’s staff; not only a costly distraction but an unpleasant process to deal with.

As the pandemic continues, crime rates are predicted to rise, with the existing threat from career criminals and opportunistic thieves added to by those under pressure following a loss of income.

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The threat of internal theft must be mitigated with repeated staff training and deterrent activity by the employer. Now is a good time to conduct audits that will ensure all policies and processes are in good shape, technology designed to deter, detect and disrupt is working and fit for purpose, and that appropriate training is in place.

Confidence among managers and security teams will come from knowing that designated staff members can follow correct protocols under pressure. For example, being able to find video evidence of an incident, quickly and efficiently packaging it, and exporting it for the attention of the Police, internal Investigators or H&S auditors within GDPR protocols.

Protecting sites with advanced video surveillance

For the protection of the physical retail environment, including online sales distribution, the shift from traditional CCTV to the modern network and cloud-enabled options in use today provide enhanced security features that can prove powerful in deterring criminal activity. These technologies are capable of capturing evidence to secure a good business decision and supporting any investigation required.

For example, a retailer’s customer service department receives a complaint that a customer’s order was not complete or that goods that were returned for a refund have not arrived back at the depot. A joined-up technology process between warehouse management software (WMS) and network video cameras can differentiate between a fraud attempt that needs investigation and a genuine process mistake that can be corrected to retain a loyal customer.

Video in real-time and live alerts driven by analytics can allow operations teams to be proactive, deterring an incident or trading legally rather than launching a costly reactive operation. The growing use of edge processing and onboard analytics enables the processing of data within cameras, negating the additional time and potential lag associated with continually passing surveillance information back and forward to servers.

This can streamline and vastly improve operations. In addition, surveillance cameras combined with door control technology allow security personnel to remotely check the arrival and departure of goods. The result is a reduction in the number of operatives and related costs, plus an improved flow of transport around the site through better management and scheduling of trucks and vans. Many stores and distribution depots already have video in place for the verification of intruder alarms, so incorporating additional functionality is simple and brings further value to an investment.

A safe place to shop and work

Today’s physical security technologies can be used to deliver a range of features in addition to those used for security purposes. An array of retail intelligence options such as queue monitoring and stock control capabilities can improve operations, while tools to determine and set occupancy levels help retailers to monitor customer numbers and enforce social distancing.

The addition of IP audio speakers, triggered when the occupancy threshold has been reached, can deliver pre-recorded, consistent messaging around the requirement for adhering to current COVID-19 safety protocols. This improves staff confidence, customer comfort, and makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable shopping experience and working environment.

At such an important time in the retail calendar, it’s imperative that customer service and operations teams make customers feel safe and confident, demonstrating high levels of service and enhanced customer care during the current pandemic. This will encourage valued shoppers to return to stores, to use online facilities, and to turn the casual browser into a loyal customer.

With the right mix of security, safety and task support technologies, teams have the tools to make customer-centric decisions and are freed up to deliver high levels of customer service to the customer on the sales floor. 

Necessity is the mother of invention

While Covid-19 brings uncertainty, industries including retail have little choice but to forge ahead, but as they innovate to develop new solutions, giving the retailer more power to protect their stores, improve health and safety and streamline operations for a positive customer experience, so the day-to-day challenges, particularly in the golden quarter become more manageable.

Supported by the trusted providers of such dedicated solutions, the retail industry can feel empowered to continue to deliver goods and essential services to its customers, and through embracing new technologies, confidently face whatever challenges the future might bring.

By Graham Swallow, Axis Communications.