Food retailers have been open throughout the pandemic and gradually other stores have re-opened with non-essential shops re-opening from 15th June. During this time, all retailers appear to have put in place whatever measures they can to make the shopping experience safe for their staff and their customers.
The easing of lockdown has caused many a headache for the retailer because whilst money, time and constant communication are being invested to do the right thing, they are doing it for customers who have a very varied view of what the “right thing” actually is because of the confusion around what is guidance, advice and what is law.
Most people are interpreting guidance and advice as “it’s up to you to decide” whereas the law says, “if you don’t follow this, then you will pay a penalty”. In recent weeks, the volume of advice and guidance has increased significantly and it’s becoming even more confusing as each clear piece of guidance is then often followed with a selection of caveats.
Let’s look at some of the main issues:
Adherence to safe distance has become even more confusing with the 1 metre + rule. Dan Ariely, the professor of behavioural economics has coined a term called the “Fudge Factor Theory”. This is the degree that people are prepared to cheat whilst still feeling they are not breaking any moral codes. The Fudge Factor is what stops someone calling themselves a thief when they take stationery from work whilst at the same time preventing them from stealing cash because that goes beyond a sense of morality.
With the clear message of “stay 2m apart” people were regularly fudging that down to 1 metre to 1.5 metres whilst still being comfortable that they were trying to do the right thing. Now 1 metre + has confused that issue significantly because few people know what it really means and even fewer are prepared to read to find out. Here the “Fudge factor Theory” can run riot.
The Fudge Factor Theory is also present in the supermarkets’ attempts to cut down on multiple handling by increasing the use of self-scan. We have observed customers scanning only 2 out of 3 items knowing that should this be picked up at the checkout they can pass it off as user error. Historically petty shop theft has been an area where people can say “these huge companies take a large profit from me, this will not affect them one bit”. It’s cheating but people can kid themselves that it was a simple mistake.
Is it right thing to wear a face mask? Is it an attack on liberty to make people wear face masks?
It appears to make sense in making it safer for others rather than safer for the wearer and surely if everyone wore masks wouldn’t that make it a little safer for us all?
The government have introduced rules that make it compulsory to wear a mask in a shop or supermarket. The fine will be £100 and this will be enforced by police rather than stores themselves. The same rule has been in place in Scotland since 10th July with a £60 fine.
Those looking for loopholes and fudging opportunities again have a number of issues that may make compliance difficult. Firstly, if this is so important why did it not come in straightaway? Why did it take 10 days to become a rule?
Secondly, the rules do not apply to cafes, pubs, restaurants and offices. What makes these places different?
And thirdly, although encouraged it is not mandatory for staff to wear face masks.
Newspapers and social media feeds are giving airtime to a huge number of people with a broad range of opinions and most of these people are dilettantes who themselves are repeating the views of other less informed individuals. We have yet to see how customers will respond but we can expect a less than smooth response from many.
Then we have sanitiser available in all shops. Surely the one big lesson that we’ve all learnt is that cleanliness can reduce some of the risks. If prompted by staff greeters, people appear to be happy to sanitise in store but if unprompted less than half will because we pay more attention to how other people behave and how those people are rewarded or punished than we do to signs suggesting what we should do. Many people will admit they either never saw or never read the signs.
The individual stores where we have seen more success in safety compliance are starting the experience with small acts of compliance. A staff member directing customers toward free sanitiser at the door will achieve a significantly higher positive response than a sign but because the visit has started with a small act of compliance, customers generally respond better to subsequent requests for other acts of compliance and will follow instruction more often.
Then there is the importance of consistent behaviour from store staff. When staff are ignoring social distancing, it makes an otherwise compliant customer question whether it makes any difference that they are doing the right thing. Stores that have been open throughout the pandemic are seeing staff becoming less strict about distancing and whilst It’s human nature to relax when there has been a threat that didn’t become real, constant reinforcement is crucial if staff are going to do the right thing and set an example to customers.
In a couple of food stores, we noticed all the staff except the management wearing some form of personal protective equipment. This potentially sends the wrong message to customers connecting status and PPE. In interviews a number of customers won’t wear PPE because they feel it makes them look silly, for those people subtle messages from higher status people who are not wearing PPE just reinforces their concerns. Although it is not mandatory for staff to wear masks, it is worth considering in order to make a more compliant customer.
Many people struggle with being made to do something when the person telling them is not also doing it.
The big challenge in achieving a safer environment is that there sometimes appears to be little or no recourse for customers who are not following the instructions. One supermarket chain took the time to put arrows down on the floor to minimise crossing over and so maintain social distancing but within two weeks large numbers of people were ignoring the arrows primarily because nobody was correcting them.
Whilst we have been looking around stores, we are very aware just what a large undertaking these changes are for all those staff involved. The level of concentration required at all times is exhausting even without adding on the actual physical work involved. This situation is with us for the foreseeable future and retailers will need help to make the whole task easier. How long retailers can afford to keep door greeters at the front of their stores just counting people in and out when spending is not returning to pre-covid levels?
At ONVU Retail we have the ability to observe, quantify and analyse behaviour. We can use our systems; our analytics and our retail and people experience to identify strategies and tactics that can help to get your staff and your customers to do the right thing for themselves with a lot less fudging.