Article by Martyn Jones – Director
The global pandemic is putting extraordinary pressure on retailers. Some are experiencing record sales, with grocery sales increasing by 20% across the UK1. Ecommerce sales grew by 31.6% last week compared to the previous year, according to new figures by IMRG2.
Many people now refer to stores as ‘the front line’, because of new demand for goods placed on retail. Some UK high street retailers have been praised by their launch of ‘essential’ food boxes designed to help those who couldn’t obtain delivery slots. Morrisons has pledged £10m to food banks and Waitrose has donated over £75,000 to charities working with coronavirus3. Many other retailers are doing their bit by relaxing restrictions on goods, as of last week Aldi, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose had made changes to previously enforced product restrictions.
We spoke to some of our customers last week to find out how they were coping with the current situation. Many explained that the pressure of reduced staffing was being felt as colleagues self-isolate with symptoms, the remaining staff must cover absences. This is combined with record numbers of customers in-store.
Retailers are also enforcing social distancing – a principle allowing a minimum of 2 metres between each customer. Most high street retailers are queueing customers outside the sop to manage levels of footfall inside. Some retail staff feel anxious about going to work in new conditions. Some feel nervous yet proud to serve as part of an effort to feed the nation.
Currently, we’re monitoring how the crisis is affecting the performance of our technology. We saw ‘push to talk’ activations double or even triple in some stores. One store experienced over 5,000 ‘push to talk’ activations in a single day. This indicates how stretched colleagues are – having to manage customers at the store entrance, queues at tills and maintaining stock and social distancing inside.
The growing crisis has made communication more vital than ever. A local store manager said that team communication was a ‘lifeline’ – their system allowed for safe, socially distant communication between colleagues across the store. One colleague said that the headset enabled her to have a giggle with her friends at work, which helped to keep the team spirit up. At VoCoVo we feel extremely proud to have such brave, positive customers.
Social distancing is likely to be around for a long time. It will also shape the future as the measures are slowly relaxed. What can retail colleagues expect in future? We predict a more flexible, open-minded approach to staffing. Reduced staffing is forcing teams to accomplish even more despite stripped-back staffing. It’s forcing most of our customers to change the way they work. Many are relying on staying connected to get things done more efficiently.
We salute all our customers dealing with new daily challenges and will maintain business, as usual, to help you through this.