Retail colleagues have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic. While most of the country was either furloughed or working from home, supermarkets and other essential stores remained open. Along with their normal duties, colleagues had to grapple with a new set of challenges. From monitoring outdoor queues to enforcing social distancing, retail colleagues frequently risked their own safety for the sake of the general public.
For the most part, their efforts were met with the gratitude they deserved. We recently surveyed customers from the UK and the US to find out how the pandemic had affected their attitudes to shopping. Consumers on both sides of the Atlantic were enthusiastic in their praise for colleagues:
- 52% said that their appreciation for colleagues had increased
- 56% thought that colleagues improved their experience
These sentiments are backed up by other findings. A survey by Co-Op found that 90% of the British public think that retail colleagues have provided an essential service during the pandemic.
Colleague abuse has increased
Sadly, not everyone has been so kind. The pandemic saw a worrying increase in the verbal and physical abuse of retail colleagues:
- 1 in 5 customers admitted to showing aggression towards retail colleagues during the pandemic
- 37% of customers witnessed abuse of some kind
- 88% of retail colleagues were verbally abused in 2020, and one in ten were physically assaulted
- The most common triggers for these incidents were stock shortages and social distancing rules
A golden opportunity for shoplifters?
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the pandemic also led to an increase in criminal activity in stores. While overall shoplifting incidents fell, the stores that remained open suffered disproportionately. Customer theft cost UK retailers £770 million in 2020, up 9% from the previous year. There are several possible explanations for this:
- The anonymity afforded by facemasks emboldened more people to steal
- Colleagues were focusing on the enforcement of safety regulations, making it easier for thieves to go unnoticed
- Concerns about virus transmission made colleagues less willing to confront shoplifters
- The economic impact of the pandemic forced some customers to shoplift out of desperation
Technology may have also played a part. Pre-pandemic research shows that self-checkouts greatly increase the likelihood of shoplifting. UK retailers lost over £3 billion to self-checkout theft in 2017, up from £1.6 billion 2014. The pandemic saw self-checkouts becoming the preferred option for three quarters of shoppers. It is therefore not surprising that shoplifting increased.
Investing in security is money well spent
We’re sure that you feel a moral obligation to keep your colleagues safe at work. However, this is not the only reason to prioritise security. It also makes sense from a financial point of view:
- Colleagues who feel unsafe are more likely to resign. Recruiting and training new colleagues is significantly more expensive than holding onto the ones you already have.
- Crime costs UK retailers over £2 billion a year. With the pandemic already wiping £250 billion from the UK economy, this is money that you can’t afford to lose.
Better communication keeps everyone safe
VoCoVo enables easy store-wide communication. This allows colleagues to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour without putting themselves at risk:
- Headsets can be used to alert security teams to suspicious behaviour. This is more discreet than using a tannoy.
- Our conference feature allows you to create a separate channel for reporting security incidents. This means that security teams are not distracted by other conversations.
- Headsets act as a visible deterrent. Would-be criminals can see that colleagues are in contact with one another and may reconsider their actions.
- Our message casting feature allows HQ to alert all colleagues to potential security risks. If thieves have been operating in a certain area, you can tell all local stores to be on the lookout.
- Headsets allow colleagues to call the emergency services without having to find a phone.
- VoCoVo can be integrated with CCTV to alert colleagues to suspicious activity.
- Headsets can be linked to your existing tannoy system (link to either A73 or AD1), allowing colleagues to trigger security alerts anonymously from anywhere in store.
Find out more about improving security with VoCoVo:
Our research shows that colleagues feel 54% safer with VoCoVo backing them up. By reducing theft and giving colleagues peace of mind, our system can help you thrive in the post-pandemic world.