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Look who’s back!

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

Just like a boomerang returning to its thrower, last week saw new rules requiring shoppers in the UK to wear a facemask. So, whether we are fighting over turkeys to feed everyone at an extended family Christmas dinner, or a smaller lunch because we are locked down again, the supermarket aisles will be full of shoppers behind facemasks.

The government has said once again that it doesn’t expect Christmas 2021 to be a repeat of last year when we were locked down. In the light of fears over the transmissibility of the new omicron variant, the reintroduction of facemasks in some (not all) settings is being explained as a necessary measure to keep Christmas on track: a way to ensure that we can celebrate the festive season with loved ones.

In that respect, it strikes me as a small price to pay. Things are certainly more serious in other countries around the world, many of which are our closest neighbours. Mandatory vaccination, ‘no jab, no job’ policies, full lockdown for those who are unvaccinated, curfews and travel bans are being introduced in countries that were thought to have the pandemic under control. It is thought that low levels of vaccination take up in some of these countries – such as Germany, where mandatory vaccination is being seriously considered – is behind the dangerous rise in infections.

Compared to these interventions, I’ll put up with the mild inconvenience of having to wear a facemask in the supermarket any day.

And this forces me to think about our colleagues in the retail industry, who are being left to deal with the effects of the new rules. Many shoppers will of course forget their facemask and will have to be reminded of the rules. Some will refuse to wear one, for whatever reason, and may become abusive when asked by retail workers to do adhere to the rules. Which begs the question: are shopworkers frontline workers or law enforcers?

Iceland’s Managing Director, Richard Walker has already said that, while the firm fully supports the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops, it “won’t be asking our store colleagues to police it.” He has spoken of the threats that his staff faced when asked to enforce the wearing of masks during the first lockdown, and how the number of incidents tumbled when staff were asked not to confront shoppers who would not wear a mask.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s CEO, Simon Roberts, has spoken of the need to position staff outside front doors to stores to remind people to wear a mask, which strikes me as a waste of resources. Of course, shoppers should adhere to the rules, but why must retailers dedicate people to enforcing these rules when they could be serving customers or ensuring shelves already hit by supply chain issues are kept stacked?

Once again, technology could come to the rescue and identify those not wearing a mask, reminding them with signage and audio announcements. Body-worn video meanwhile, could be more widely used to not only discourage the abuse of staff – knowing that an incident is being captured on video can de-escalate the situation, for example – but provide immediate assistance to the worker if required.

RichardSimon and any other retail CEOs faced with the same issues – do get in touch and we can deliver technology that will keep your staff safe, shoppers happy, and the tills busy!

Until next week, stay safe!