Freedom Day: Retailer’s Struggles and Solutions

In a bid to get back to normal, whilst living with the Covid-19 virus, the UK government has scrapped all legal restrictions on social distancing and mandatory masks as of July 19th 2021. Individual retailers are now responsible for making their own rules on the matter and imposing them; and the safety measures in place now vary from store to store.

The impact of ‘freedom day’ on retailers:

Supermarket giants, Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, and Morrison, are encouraging customers to continue wearing masks in store. Tesco has said, “We’re asking our customers and colleagues to be on the safe side, and so from July 19 we’ll be encouraging our colleagues to wear face coverings whilst they work and encouraging our customers to do the same when they shop with us.”

Other retailers such as Primark and John Lewis Partnership have stated that they will ask shoppers to wear face coverings; however, Primark has stated it will not put signs up. The owner of John Timpson and John Lewis Partnership and Waitrose firmly believes the decision should be left to individuals. Other brands such as Costa Coffee has said customers and staff will no longer be asked to wear face coverings.

The hope from the government and retailers is that shoppers will continue to operate in a safe and considerate manner and wear face covering where appropriate. According to the ONS statistics, 64% of British adults plan to cover their faces in stores following the lifting of the legal requirements on July 19th 2021; and 60% of Britons aim to avoid crowded places completely. Ketul Desai, the owner of The General Store in Tufnell Park, London said, “Every person who’s been in has been wearing masks. It just seems like what it was like before.”

The rules regarding masks have become confusing to shoppers due to the discrepancies. Moreover, violence against retail staff increased as they tried to encourage mask rules to the point that some retailers had to call the police to enforce the rule.

Other safety measures retailers are not scrapping yet includes protective screens, sanitiser stations, and limitation on the number of shoppers in store. John Lewis, Primark, Tesco, and others are committed to the continuation of social distancing with signs helping people stay maintain safe distance.

The ONS reports, 49% of adults plan to maintain social distancing and 75% plan to sanitise their hands frequently. However, with footfall predicted by Springboard to increase by 19.7% on the week of ‘freedom day’, retailers are anxious about safety.

Solution:

Putting signs around stores is a nice way to remind shoppers of the store rules on safety; and having members of staff at the door and around the store will encourage shoppers to follow the rules.

However, it has been difficult for some retailers to enforce safety measures. Automation can help here. Video and AI based people counters can give real time information on occupancy and staff can receive alerts for when maximum occupancy is reached. Furthermore, video analytics tools can detect face masks and alert staff in case of non-compliance.

The UK government‘s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) deemed retail to be a safe environment due to the high level of investment on safety measures such as screens, increased cleaning, social distancing etc. And it’s true, retailers have spent a lot of money to make shoppers feel safe. Thus, it is important the effort does not go in vain.

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