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Retailers: Consider the ‘measure twice, cut one’ approach to reopening

Retail
(Image credit: Image Credit: WNDJ / Pixabay)

A version of normality may be in sight for British citizens, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of the country’s new four-stage reopening plan. 

While many retailers are excited, business leaders must use real-time Covid-19 data to remain cognizant of the impacts of reopening and make their own strategic decisions that align with both public safety and business continuity goals. Just because you can legally open does not mean that you should, until you have identified potential risks and created a framework to address them. 

Johnson’s plan is divided into four phases, with outdoor sports facilities reopening from 29 March and non-essential retail, personal care, and outdoor hospitality locations being allowed to open from 12 April. By step three on 17 May, indoor hospitality and hotels will be permitted to reopen, and step four on 21 June will see an end to all legal limits on social contact.

These dates are checkpoints, not promises, as they are contingent on multiple factors. After all, certain hospitality venues were allowed to reopen in July 2020 before the sweeping lockdown began. With real-time information, risk decision-makers will be able to make educated decisions, as well as follow constantly evolving government guidelines.

Reopening from 12 April poses a variety of risks, ranging from ensuring the physical safety of customers and staff to increased supply chain issues, all while businesses are trying to remain competitive in the online marketplace and meet shifting consumer demands. It’s necessary for brick and mortar retailers to change the way they operate and address these hybrid risks. Retail leaders will need to act as risk managers and develop comprehensive, flexible risk mitigation frameworks to protect against the current unpredictable environment.

The reopening of retail may encounter roadblocks before April 12, such as possible delays. For example, earlier this month England’s worst Covid hotspot, the town of Corby, saw cases rise by nearly 50 percent in one week, which could see them left behind when the rest of the country looks to relax restrictions. 

Notable ramifications

If there are notable ramifications, such as increased cases during the first phase of the reopening, delays will affect the whole schedule. Even though Johnson’s plan has set dates, risk decision-makers must be flexible and ready to adapt during the entire process amid this unprecedented pandemic. 

Physical safety is a top priority of the reopening plan, with infectious diseases ranked as the most eminent concern among Global Risks Horizon poll respondents in the World Economic Forum. Despite the fall in case numbers in London, just one month ago there were five times more people in the hospital for Covid-19 than there were in July 2020, according to London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

UK government Chief Medical Adviser Whitty also reported that despite the Covid-19 vaccination program’s success, there is likely to be another surge, possibly in the late summer. 

Taking their comments into consideration, corporate adaptability around the Covid-19 reopening dates is required as Johnson has previously stated that in order to progress between reopening stages, infection rates must not risk surges in hospitalizations due to the risk of unsustainable pressure on the NHS. 

Supply chain challenges have skyrocketed during the pandemic, resulting in both disruptions and new competitors. 

Due to disruptions, Pfizer and BioNTech were expected to ship only 50 percent of their Covid-19 vaccine target through the end of 2020. During the UK’s reopening plan, supply chain management will possibly see a revitalization, but that does not mean that it will be without adjustments as we are now starting to see some vaccination centers closing ahead of a possible vaccine shortage. 

Apple will begin manufacturing its iPhone 12 in India after five years of building up supply chains and manufacturing support. While the products are intended for local sale, Apple’s expansion in the region has the potential to lead to an increase of new product introductions, with India as a manufacturing powerhouse. 

Preparing for the future

In addition, many countries like the U.S. have begun to review their use of supply chains, as not to overly rely on other countries for technologies or materials, which will possibly push supply chains in a new direction entirely. This revamp of traditional supply chain logistics calls for real-time information technology for enterprises to stay connected amid a constantly advancing landscape, versus inflexible legacy tools. 

The combination of physical safety and supply chain hazards feed into the customer experience, which contributes to reputational brand risk. 

Masks and social distancing will be critical features of the customer experience, with essential stores likely to continue to enforce mask requirements. Tesco, Asda, and Waitrose are among supermarkets that have banned entry to shoppers without face masks unless they have medical exemptions, whereas Sainsbury’s said it will “challenge” customers that do not comply. 

These varied actions and repercussions—ranging from the behavior of security staff to the quality of customer safety reported—may lead to different customer experiences, and ultimately contribute to unique risk profiles. 

With positive customer experience translating overtime into trust and rapid technological adaptation, there is an opportunity for retailers to build trust during a time where only 23 percent of consumers rank the industry as trustworthy, according to a recent report by Deloitte on the outlook of the 2021 retail landscape.

Even if the reopening process occurs in a timely manner with no major interferences, commerce has reached unparalleled heights and calls for additional precautions. Stolen gift cards, phishing campaigns, and leaked user details only scratch the surface of nefarious cyberattacks that retailers entering the e-commerce space must safeguard themselves against. Enterprises must proactively take steps to increase cybersecurity and protect online infrastructure amid a world where the risk of compromised data is becoming ever more frequent. 

This year and beyond, advanced technology like artificial intelligence will become crucial to prepare for future potential disruptions and restrictions. Historically, we have thought of AI in retail for supply chain management or managing inventory, but leveraging AI and real-time information will help retail organizations plan for and detect the earliest signals of unfolding events. Having this information to hand a strategic framework in place will be critical for business resilience both short- and long-term.

Real-time information may appear cutting edge, but with ever-growing risk across all verticals in a global landscape, it has become nothing less than a necessity. Without real-time information to keep companies up to date on breaking events, a post-pandemic normal may never be achieved.

Michael Affronti, SVP of Product, Dataminr