Communication and social distancing

Article by Martyn Jones | 12th April 2020

Many of our customers remain open during the current crisis. This presents numerous challenges, but is also a time for innovation.

Social distancing

In crowded stores it is difficult to keep metres apart from colleagues and customers. Customers must queue outside the store during periods of double or triple footfall. Our own data shows up to 5,000 daily ‘push to talk’ activations in some stores, showing the sheer volume of colleague communication required to maintain business as usual.

What insights can we learn from this? Retail managers are managing huge numbers of customers from morning until night, all across a dispersed and reduced team. Customers are also purchasing up to 30% more groceries and are shopping more frequently, as restaurants around the UK close. Yet because of social distancing, staff are having to maintain a safe distance from customers and colleagues. Thankfully a lot is being done to mitigate risk, including rising the limit of contactless purchase from £30 to £45.

Protecting staff

Retail leaders are rightly concerned about colleagues being able to maintain social distance at work. All staff should have the right to work independently, at a safe distance. ASDA has already innovated with its use of plexi-glass screens at the till. During a lonely time, communication technology is the piece of equipment that can support staff morale and safety.

Communication tools enable teams to talk from safe distances. If every colleague is supplied with a headset, the entire team is connected and can collaborate more quickly. Some stores have referred to it as ‘a lifeline’. For health and safety reasons, sharing headsets may be a less safe option. Having more colleagues connected with their own devices also means no-one has to be ‘hunted down’ to answer customer questions.

Customer behaviour

Has social distancing told us something new about how retail is changing? Possibly. More than ever, customers are expecting quick and efficient service. They want answers immediately, they expect stores to be organised and queues to be managed sensibly. It is everyone’s moral responsibility.

During this unprecedented time, retail has been forced to change rapidly in response to changing circumstances. Consumer behaviour changed overnight. Busy queues full of customers could soon be considered a crime. Once the crisis has subsided, consumer expectations will remain high. We need to make sure that colleague safety and connectivity is there to support this monumental shift in retail.

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