From Surviving to Thriving—Retailers Can Create a Positive Legacy from COVID-19 Crisis

Retailers and their loss prevention leaders have an opportunity to forge more resilient, efficient, and agile operations as they make their way back from the global health crisis currently halting economic activity, according to one industry expert. It may take a while to get from here to there, with numerous challenges to navigate on the journey, but the eventual payback may be stores better equipped to compete in a retail environment that was already in transition.

There is no soft pedaling the market disruption and economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. The economic brakes being applied to promote social distancing and stem infections are causing turmoil that has leading retail trade groups calling on Congress and the Trump administration to offer retailers assistance to weather the crisis. Yet, there are opportunities amid the ruin, suggested Brian Broadus, Loss Prevention Practice Lead for Solink, a cloud-based security solution software provider for video recording, loss prevention, and investigations. “Retailers are going to have to adjust to a new normal, certainly, but they are likely to emerge with a better understanding of data they need, insight into moving merchandise efficiently, and a clearer path for how to position themselves to compete in an omnichannel world.”

Currently, Broadus said that stores and their LP leaders need to be thinking out how to resume operations in world that will be different—where there may be occupancy restrictions, changes in hours of operations, and traffic patterns that may need to be adjusted to accommodate distancing. “Right now, we need to be looking at what is the new normal right out of the gate and the different things we can do to start preparing for that,” he said.

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Readying staff for potential frustrations, by sending them reminders of their de-escalation training, may also be prudent. “People have been seriously impacted, and that can reveal itself in aggressive behavior that employees need to manage,” said Broadus. “For those without a de-escalation training model this provides good reason to think about one in the future.”

As in any crisis event, a major retailer is more likely to be judged on its response to the event than the disaster itself, said Broadus, who noted the many other immediate planning issues confronting retailers and LP executives. They include: the security of business being conducted outside the corporate office; security labor supply for protecting facilities; visibility into remote sites; availability of alternate distribution sites or pool facilities should select DCs be closed; assuring product deliveries meet requirements; managing and measuring new demands for store cleanliness; coordination of internal and external communications; and potentially operating stores with fewer cashiers and store associates who typically provide a deterrent to individuals from simply walking out with supply.

Given the current chaos, Broadus suggested LP leaders should push themselves to think creatively to prepare. “It’s important to ask, ‘what is the worst case?’ For example, what if you can open stores but can can’t take cash payment, how you do that? What if normal vehicles aren’t available to collect payment, what then?”

As stores move further along the crisis timeline, there will be an important opportunity to revisit a retailer’s response and—critically—to lay the groundwork for a better future. “As we start to come out of this, everyone should be doing those roundtable reviews of the incident, bringing together leaders to examine what we were and were not prepared for.”

Broadus thinks COVID-19 incident reviews have the potential to be more valuable than typical postmortems because entire retail ecosystems have been tested, unlike localized storms or other events that often disrupt only one part of the business or a single geographic region. As such, he thinks retailers have an opportunity to ultimately benefit from the pain they’re experiencing currently. “It’s going to bring a lot of issues into focus; processes are going to be scrutinized and cleaned up as a result,” he said.

Broadus suggested several issues that LP will likely benefit from examining:

  • How well did we manage activity at remote sites? Were low-risk stores, which normally get less attention, sufficiently visible to us?
  • Did our store security suffer from being too ‘people-based?’ Could remote monitoring provide more reliability and prove more sustainable?
  • How did we do with crowd management? Store staffing? Was the need for additional analytics made clear, such as for store activity monitoring, traffic flow, and people counting?

Retail’s approach to store technology may be another legacy. Specifically, a replacement of large investments in proprietary store infrastructure in favor of more nimble technology tools, and flexible, vendor agnostic platforms that can be tied together seamlessly.

For some retailers, the biggest benefit could be to catalyze them to adjust a future retail marketplace that they’ve been sluggish to acknowledge, introducing them to BOPIS, for example, or accommodating some kind of virtual payment method, or indicating the need for efficient merchandise tracking and movement and on-demand merchandising. Consumers crave convenience from retailers and the current crisis is likely to sharpen those desires. “It’s possible that some companies that have been fighting the curve and not wanting to compete in ‘Amazon’s space’ to realize that we’re all in their space now—that some form of online presence is important for most retailers,” said Broadus. “And the value of distribution efficiency is only likely to be solidified by this.”

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