With tighter coronavirus restrictions forcing increasing numbers of Christmas shoppers online this year, compliance authority Bureau Veritas is advising retailers and logistics firms to prepare for the extra health, safety and hygiene risks this rise in festive e-commerce sales will bring.
It comes as unsurprisingly latest figures show a steep rise in online shopping since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Office for National Statistics reporting that a third of consumer retail spending now takes place online compared to just 20% pre-pandemic (1). Indeed, e-retail giant Amazon, which flourished during lockdown, recently announced plans to take on 7,000 more permanent staff by the end of the year, launching two new fulfilment centres, as well as three seasonal pop-up warehouses(2).
Similar trends are afoot in food, with Tesco reportedly adding free delivery to its Clubcard Plus loyalty scheme while Marks & Spencer has recently launched its partnership with Ocado to offer clothes and homeware alongside food this Christmas.
As such, amid this period of rapid change for the sector, Bureau Veritas is pressing retailers and their logistics suppliers to ensure they not only have adequate ‘COVID-secure’ measures in place to cope with rising online demand but also address other health and safety associated with sweeping changes in distribution.
Chris Morris, Head of Key Accounts at Bureau Veritas comments: “Facing a socially-distanced Christmas amid a global pandemic, it’s no surprise that a rising chunk of festive shoppers will be turning to online purchasing this year.
“As a result, many high-street and e-commerce retailers, alongside their logistics partners have been working around the clock to improve their online and delivery capabilities in preparation. Whether that’s supermarkets finding new ways to automate their picking and packing processes, or retailers turning their high-street stores into temporary distribution points, in the rush to cope with the potential tsunami of online orders, firms must not overlook the plethora of added risks this presents.
“While implementing and managing ‘COVID-secure’ measures have been the main priority for the sector in recent months, with thousands of temporary staff expected to be recruited ahead of the Christmas frenzy, now it’s about stepping these up especially as government guidance continues to evolve and change. This must be balanced with other key health and safety risks such as fire safety.”
According to Bureau Veritas, which regularly works with major players in the retail and logistics space, fire safety procedures at pop-up distribution hubs, adequate health and safety training for temporary staff and business continuity in the event of a coronavirus outbreak are the top concerns ahead of the Christmas period.
Chris adds: “Ensuring extra seasonal staff are adequately trained in not just ‘COVID-secure’ procedures but wider health and safety processes is paramount. Added to this, if businesses are setting up temporary distribution points, mapping out and mitigating fire safety risks must be factored in. Finally, with the risk of coronavirus transmission showing no signs of abating, firms should take the time now to review and adjust business continuity well in advance of Christmas so that, should an outbreak occur, they are prepared.
“As always, if in doubt, we’d recommend they call on an expert consultancy, such as the team at Bureau Veritas, which can provide a robust assessment and relevant recommendations to ensure absolute best class in health and safety policy.”