Response to the recent demand for legislation to protect shopworkers by Nick Fisher, CEO, Facewatch Ltd

 

Facewatch’ s mission has always been to provide a service that supports retail business owners and create a better retail experience for the customer in an unobtrusive way. It is, therefore, a sad moment to read reports on the huge increase in anti-social behaviour and violence towards retail staff over the last year. Much of this increase has been caused by a small minority of the public who are frustrated by the need for the in-store safety measures brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic.

Facewatch has, of course, been aware of these challenges and our launch of a new algorithm that is effective in recognising habitual offenders even when wearing a facemask, was one of our immediate priorities and was delivered in November last year. We now see Facewatch’ s role in the retail sector broadened and key to the future of safe retailing.

Facewatch instantly identifies individuals with a track record of crime or anti-social behaviour when entering a store, sending immediate alerts to multiple destinations as determined by the store. These can be to the store manager, security guards, monitoring stations, head office all at the same time in less than 2 seconds, enabling an immediate intervention.

Throughout the pandemic, retailers have needed to control customer volumes in store. In some cases, this has increased costs by using man guarding in addition to all the necessary PPE controls being applied.  The Police have declared they simply do not have the resources to deal with crimes such as store theft and general abuse of retail employees. Consequently, multiple retailers are turning to Facewatch as a proven and effective solution in deterring the undesirable customers from coming to their stores for fear of being recognised, thus preventing all the hassle and stress associated with repeat offenders. In fact, Facewatch customers report a reduction in crime of 25% or more within the first 90 days of deployment with increasing results the longer the system is used.

Signage displayed to customers (and repeat offenders) makes them aware that the system is deployed in the store resulting in both customers and employees reporting feeling safer as a result.  There is no evidence whatsoever that it deters honest customers from shopping at the store.

There are a few minority civil liberty organisation that would have you believe that facial recognition and companies like Facewatch will hold and store your data, track and trace your movement and infringe your liberty! In fact, Facewatch deletes all biometric data of regular customers (non-offenders) immediately and operates above the already strict legislation for biometric technology.

Retail workers have been complete heroes throughout this pandemic and yet over 400 of these heroes are attacked threatened or abused in their workplace every day. That was over 150,000 in 2020 and recent report claim it has increased by 80% in some businesses since the summer. These crimes are highly corrosive to the people working in these challenging circumstances and so the Government must act to criminalise such offence. As a former retail director, who understands completely the challenges placed on modern day retailers I am completely aligned with the 65 retail CEO’s who have written to Boris Johnson to ask for greater protection for shopworkers.

In support of our complete commitment to this, for the duration of the lockdown in England if anti-social behaviour and staff abuse is affecting your business Facewatch will provide one system licence and training free of charge for the first 90 days and if you are not completely satisfied with the results during this period Facewatch will remove the system.

 

Meat, nappies, razor blades and deodorant top the list of Britain’s most shoplifted items, reveals the company behind a facial recognition camera system used to spot criminals

  • Meat, nappies, razor blades and deodorant are Britain’s most shoplifted items
  • Facewatch operates in some Southern Co-op stores, Budgens, garden centres  
  • System sends alert to staff when someone on watchlist walks through the door

Meat, nappies, razor blades and deodorant are Britain’s most shoplifted items, a company behind a controversial facial recognition camera system to spot criminals has revealed.

Facewatch operates in some Southern Co-op stores, Budgens, garden centres and petrol stations and plans to expand, despite criticisms from privacy campaigners. Facewatch insists the technology is legal and meets the standards of privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Facewatch’s chief executive, Nick Fisher, said the company has created a ‘watchlist’ of individuals who have a history of theft, violence or threats of violence against shop staff based on CCTV images, names and descriptions provided by retailers signed up to the service.

The system sends an alert to store staff when someone on the watchlist walks through the door and is seen on CCTV (file image)

The system sends an alert to store staff when someone on the watchlist walks through the door and is seen on CCTV (file image)

Mr Fisher said the most commonly stolen items are packed meat, nappies, baby food, razor blades, whisky, cosmetics, cheese, deodorants and small electrical goods.

The system sends an alert to store staff when someone on the watchlist walks through the door and is seen on CCTV. The director of civil rights group Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said: ‘This surveillance is well-known to suffer from severe inaccuracy and biases, leading to innocent people being wrongly flagged.’

Meat, (file image) nappies, razor blades and deodorant are Britain¿s most shoplifted items, a company behind a controversial facial recognition camera system to spot criminals has revealed

Meat, (file image) nappies, razor blades and deodorant are Britain’s most shoplifted items, a company behind a controversial facial recognition camera system to spot criminals has revealed

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9128315/Meat-nappies-razor-blades-deodorant-list-Britains-shoplifted-items.html

 

Nick Fisher talks about the challenges for retailers and how they are managing crime and violence

If you run a business that’s about standing up for individuals privacy rights in a democratic country and rely on creating headline news to encourage people to financially support you, it looks like challenging times ahead. Greater issues such as climate change, famine, racism, crime, immigration, Brexit and of course this awful pandemic will continue to be the headlines for some time to come.

 

However, if this is your strategy and you hope to attract and engage advocates of your position, it would serve you well to accurately reflect the truth and demonstrate at least some understanding of your subjects’ proposition and how it works before potentially playing with people’s lives. That is unless your strategy is to purposefully misrepresent the facts, propagate untruths, create sensationalism, or instill fear.

 

The facts are, Facewatch uses facial recognition to protect employees and business against criminals. Our algorithms are highly accurate, tested frequently by NIST and currently rank as the best in the Western World. Facewatch goes above and beyond GDPR legislation when processing and managing data, implementing self-imposed rules and additional levels of security and transparency beyond legislative requirements. Contrary to incorrect reports, there are no secrets to any Facewatch deployment, clear signage is a mandatory requirement of use. Furthermore, our customers have published testimonials, with all reporting significant reductions in crime, employees feeling safer and no effect whatsoever on footfall.

Retail crime is at an all-time high and verbal and violent assaults on employees is the norm, some reports indicating an 80% increase year on year!  Protecting your most valuable asset, your people is an imperative of all responsible retailers. So, while the challenging retail climate exists, deploying facial recognition could quickly evolve from a nice to have to a necessity in the same way as CCTV did before it. The CO-OP must be commended for their pro-action in adopting the latest and some would argue the safest technology that lawfully protects the welfare of their employees and customers alike.

 

The truth is that there are no privacy concerns from the overwhelming majority of the general public. The interests of the law-abiding individual trumps all or should so in the moral public’s perception. It’s the sensational, alarmist and misrepresentative narrative repeatedly trotted out by civil liberty groups that aim to cause disruption and concern. This fanciful inference that your data will be secretly recorded and stored, that modern-day algorithms are severely inaccurate and innocent people will be flagged and recorded as criminals is complete nonsense, stated without any evidence and simply designed to cause alarm. Using terms to describe facial recognition as deeply chilling and more associated with the Stasi or dictatorships is an insult to responsible businesses who with complete transparency are aiming to protect the welfare and well being of their employees and customers. All this commentary is given without any insight whatsoever as to how private facial recognition (Facewatch) operates. It would do the civil liberty groups some good to get out of their ivory towers and spend some time in the very environments that Facewatch is deployed. Who knows, it may even lead to them demonstrate some understanding and empathy towards retail employees and the daily challenges they face in modern-day Britain, rather than championing the rights of violent offenders and thieves!

Facewatch support the BSIA as a full member and are working with the team to publish a guide for the industry on the use of AFR and the need for an understanding of the data laws that currently exist in the UK and Europe. In a recent round table discussion many of the opportunities and challenges for the technology were aired. Nick Fisher was one of the key speakers.

 

Watch the broadcast here:

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Protecting our customers and colleagues

Comment from Gareth Lewis, Loss prevention officer at the Southern Co-op

The current pandemic and a rise in retail crime are both presenting constant challenges for those of us in the convenience sector. At Southern Co-op, we are regularly adapting to the needs of our customers and colleagues to ensure they are as safe as they can be during the pandemic.

We also need to ensure that our stores function efficiently whilst still delivering high levels of customer service. One way to achieve this is through improved technology which we have been rolling out in a number of ways such as self-service checkouts, Amazon lockers and digital security solutions. Our approach is to find solutions that work for everyone.

In my role as the loss prevention and security manager, I have found that facial recognition is one such technology that has helped reduce theft in the stores where it is deployed.

We have completed a successful trial using Facewatch FR in a select number of stores where there is a higher level of crime.  All of our customers have been made aware with distinctive signage and we have introduced a system which does not store images of our customers unless they have been identified in relation to a crime. This ensures it is GDPR compliant whilst also allowing us to gather evidence against more prolific thieves in our stores before entering in discussions with the local police.

The system alerts our store teams immediately when someone enters their store who has a past record of theft or anti-social behaviour. It gives our teams time to decide on the best action which is incredibly important. Our teams have been trained to use the App and watch list software.

Of course, facial recognition is just one tool in a range of other tactics we are using to deter crime and prevent abuse. Southern Co-op’s Protecting Our People programme looks at crime from every angle – causes, prevention, reporting and justice. This includes £100,000 worth of grants to local organisations working to make our neighbourhoods safer. None of our colleagues should have to face threats of violence and we hope our work will help reduce future crime in our stores.

Co-op Copner Portsmouth
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BRC unveils Shopworkers’ Protection Pledge to protect retail workers against crime

Over 400 incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers occur every day

11 cross-party MPs put their name to the pledge for the launch


The BRC has launched the Shopworkers’ Protection Pledge in an effort to support the legislation necessary to protect retail workers against crime and violence.

On Wednesday, a total of 11 cross-party MPs put their name to the pledge for the launch and the BRC is calling on MPs from all parties to add their name to this cause.

The signatories pledge aims to improve legislation after the BRC Crime Survey found that over 400 incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers occur every day.

http://brc.org.uk/news/corporate-affairs/shopworkers-protection-pledge/ 

THE PLEDGE

Over 400 retail workers face violence and abuse in the workplace every single day. The British Retail Consortium Crime Survey shows an increasing problem of abuse, threats and violence facing the millions of people who work in our shops, serving our local communities. These incidents are often the result of challenging shoplifters, enforcing age restricted sales and recently, implementing coronavirus safety measures.

These victims of abuse carry their experiences with them for a lifetime. It affects them, their colleagues, and the families they go home to. Retail workers don’t just serve the community, they are the community and have been ‘Hidden Heroes’ during the coronavirus pandemic, working tirelessly to keep the nation fed and supplied with the items we have all needed.

As elected Members of Parliament, we have a duty to protect retail workers, ensuring that those who needlessly assault shop staff face the full force of the law. No one should have to face violence or threats in their workplace.

I pledge to champion shopworkers in my constituency and:

  • Recognise the serious impact that violence and abuse has on shopworkers and the local communities they serve.
  • Stand with retail workers to support legislation to better protect them.

Send email here: chantelle.devilliers@brc.org.uk <chantelle.devilliers@brc.org.uk>; to sign the pleadge

Facing down shop crime

Big Interview with Asian Trader magazine: Nick Fisher, MD Facewatch

After starting his career at the RAC and moving on to Dixons and Phones4U, Nick Fisher has found his vocation in making shops safe for staff again. Here is the story of Facewatch as told to Andy Marino

Facewatch HQ is in London, but when I call Nick Fisher he is at home in Derbyshire, enjoying the countryside despite grey skies, and happy that it’s easy to go for a bike ride any time he wants.

It seems suitable that we are speaking just now. Demonstrations have turned into riots in London and other UK cities, and shop crime in Convenience has almost doubled during lock-down – criminals have found their other stores of choice closed (except to looting), so they descended on local shops instead.

Facewatch, after all, is a gotcha technology that shop thieves and thugs will be powerless against, or at least that’s the theory. I want to know all about it: can retailers at last have access to a powerful tool to fight back against the tide of criminality that seems to be overtaking us – a tide Nick Fisher actually describes as a tsunami?

Nick has been vocal, not least in this magazine, about the need to thwart the rise of crime, but he has decided that the best way he can intervene is to leave the streets to the police.

“The police use facial recognition and there’s been a number of legal cases (all funded and supported by civil liberties groups) where the police have been taken  to court for not securing permission or failing to notify – there was an instance in King’s Cross where the Met put up cameras, probably inappropriately, without telling anybody and no signage,” he says.

“The fundamental difference with public CCTV is that Facewatch is private, for businesses,” he says, as we talk about the toppling of statues, “so the rioters are observed by the police and we have nothing to do with that.”

With all this hullabaloo over privacy rights and GDPR, it’s a minefield that he doesn’t want to step into. He sees the police and government suffering terribly from laws and red tape and has found a genius way to stay above the fray.

Private property, says Nick, is fundamentally different from the streets, and the attitude of Facewatch is that when you are in my shop, it’s my rules – and it’s all legal.

“I say to these civil liberty groups, who often seem to want to defend criminals, that I will arrange for you to go and work in a store so you can experience it for yourself and it might change your view, He says, adding that they never take him up on the offer.

The beginning

Nick Fisher CEO Facewatch

Nick Fisher CEO Facewatch

“I come from a retailer’s background,” says Nick, who spent 30 years in the industry. “I helped out Carphone Warehouse for six months, because I had the experience of ten years at Dixons, and during that period a friend of mine introduced me to a guy called Simon Gordon who owns Gordon’s Wine Bar.”

Gordon’s is in the passage beside London’s Charing Cross Station that leads down to the Thames Embankment. Its vaulted cellars are evocative and lit with candles. Plenty of city folk and tourists drink there, and so plenty of pickpockets and bag-snatchers would also turn up. Gordon had founded Facewatch because he was sick of the police giving up on crimes that were happening in his bar.

“It started off as a digital crime-reporting platform, a bit like Pubwatch, and he’d been at it for five-plus years. He’d made a lot of progress but wasn’t making any money.”

Nick told him what he was doing was commendable but not commercial. First because he didn’t charge his subscribers enough and second because his principal model was reporting crime to the police, who weren’t interested in those types of crimes because they didn’t have the resources.

“The police are very public about that,” opines Nick. “In the five years since then it’s got even worse and they’ve said they’re not coming out for less than £100 or £200.”

He told Simon that from a retailer’s perspective, what they want is just for the crimes not to happen in their store.

“The challenge with CCTV – and I speak from experience, having run an estate with 700 shops – is that it’s observational technology designed to be mounted in the roof. They have HD recorders because you are supposed to record somebody pinching something and then intervene,” says Nick.

“But if you do, it’s a really complex situation. And if you miss the incident, then notice later on you’ve lost £60-worth of meat and sausages, there’s nothing you can do about it except spool through footage looking for when it happened.”

The step after that is the hardest: to get the law interested. “The police will tell you to burn it on a disk and you’ll never hear from them again.” You’ve wasted an hour of your life and lost £60.

“We needed to come up with something proactive not reactive,” Nick concludes.

The available facial recognition tech was good enough if the subject stared into the camera – as you do at passport control – but wouldn’t help with a hoodie slinking into a store with his head down.

Nick was working on a new kind of digital algorithm that could get past this problem.

“[Gordon] liked my idea and asked me to write a business plan, so I did and we raised a first round of funding to develop the technology and the platform, and examine the lawfulness of holding stored and shared data.”

The next round, which was bigger and successfully completed last October, was to commercialise the product and take it to market: “We raised a substantial amount of money,” says Nick, indicating that investors were impressed.

Since then, the marketing has gotten underway. Facewatch now has agreements with two key distributors, the established CCTV companies Vista and DVS, “So we don’t have to go out and build our own sales force – we now have distribution partners who have their own CCTV installers and massive customer bases, and they take the Facewatch proposition to their client.”

What comes next, the big campaign?

“That’s where we are now, the early days of going live,” says Nick. “We’ve got a number of licences already out there and the amount of interest is incredible. Obviously with retailers having just been through Covid-19, even with customers having to be two metres apart they are still seeing crime at a ridiculous level.”

Watching the Defectives

Facial recognition

I ask Nick to explain how it works – not just the technical side but the legal side as well. How are both made criminal-proof?

“It’s about identifying individuals,” he answers, “low-level criminals, not murderers and rapists but people who come into your store and just verbally or violently abuse you, and/or steal from the store.” Paradoxically, the every-day nature of most of the crimes – and the fact that it’s on private premises, is the magic that makes Facewatch work.

Nick tells me about his new software – “periocular” software – that can recognise a covered face. “We’ve just developed it, and it will just take sections of the eyes, brows, cheekbones – and it’ll work with hats, sunglasses and masks on.”

The fact that crime is also mostly local can help, too. “If you speak to anyone in retail, anyone in the convenience sector, they’ll know the top five who come into their store and they probably know three of them by name.”

Facewatch is a bit like email, in that it becomes more effective and efficient the more users it has. “So Facewatch will tell you whenever they enter the shop, but it will also help you identify the others, that aren’t regular but do operate within your geographical area.” This means that if a face is on the watch-list of a shop even eight miles away, the first time he enters your store, you will get an alert.

If the thief wraps up carefully it won’t help him if he has been photographed previously or somewhere nearby, says Nick: “The quality of algorithmic technology has gone through the roof in the last couple of years. There’s new releases of software coming out every ten weeks from the developers: it’s pretty advanced stuff now.”

Whether this is allowed all comes down to the legal small-print, which is watertight because Facewatch has gone over it with a fine-tooth comb at the highest levels.

“Part of our licencing contract is signing an information-sharing agreement with Facewatch, and that means we hold the data for the client and become their data controller. This is fantastic for the retailer because it means they don’t have to worry about anything. And then Facewatch shares the data proportionately with other retailers in the area who are Facewatch subscribers,” Nick explains.

“The object of Facewatch is to build this big, powerful database that we hold, store and share on behalf of our clients. We mitigate their risk, we have data-sharing rules, we have the relationship with the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office] and other required bodies, to own and manage this data on our clients’ behalf.”

And in practice? “If there are three separate retailers on Bromley High Street and they all have Facewatch licences, and have each put ten thieves into the watch-list, they share between them a database of 30 in that area,” says Nick.

Retailers like this because next to crime, their biggest fear – quite correctly – is data. They don’t know whether they should see it, whether they should be sharing it, or whether they should hold it or store it. Biometric data, such as faces, is classed as “special-category data”, and you are not allowed to possess it without explicit permission of the subject.

But Facewatch can.

“An employee might give you permission so he can open the office door but a thief certainly won’t give you permission to put them on a watch list,” Nick says. “And there’s a set of rules around GDPR and the proportionality of sharing data you have to satisfy to hold on to stuff. We take care of that.”

He says Facewatch has worked with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) and the ICO, to make sure they are doing everything above board.

“We’ve had our GDPR information-sharing-DPA [Data Protection Act] compliance all signed off by the leading QC on cyber law in the UK, Dean Armstrong [of the 36 Group]. He marked our homework, so to speak. We’ve ticked all the right boxes and we are super-transparent in everything we do.”

It sounds as if the criminals’ biggest nightmare is about to become real. Rights are still protected, and you can ask Facewatch whether you are on the watch-list and they have to tell you – but if a thief wants to be removed from it, he would have to come up with better evidence than what is stored on the database.

“If that thief does a personal access request we can tell the day, date, time and camera number and the individual who put that report on the watch-list,” laughs Nick. “And then we’ll use the evidence to challenge the request to be removed from the list: We have evidence of you right here stealing £60 of meat and sausages on such a date, and if you want to contest it, go to the police and we can have a discussion about it.”

At the same time, the innocent have nothing to fear – and for once, it’s true. “You as an individual can do as subject-access request to Facewatch any time you want,” says Nick. “We’ve only had two requests at Gordon’s Wine Bar, and funnily enough they tend to be from older blokes who have been there with younger ladies!”

In reality, a person would only ever be on the watch-list if they had committed a crime or an assault, because it is illegal to store just any old data. Most gets immediately deleted.

Putting it into practice

It strikes me that the genius part of the Facewatch offer is not the tech, even though it is cutting-edge. As Nick says, many companies can offer the hardware needed to take good pictures of ugly mugs.

Rather, it is the legal and data ju-jitsu that Facewatch has accomplished that is key. It seems to have managed cut through the tangle of permissions and loop-holes exploited by criminals and their professional helpers to thwart traders and owners.

“All biometric companies in the UK sell the tech, but Facewatch are essentially selling you the data management service,” says Nick. “The tech is included, of course, because the tech sends the alert but the difference is this: If I, as a tech company, were to sell you a facial recognition system then I don’t want to look after the data. I just want you to buy the tech from me. The problem with that is, you can only use that tech legally with the permission of the people you want to put on the database. That works fine with membership stuff like gyms, where you look into a camera for admittance, for example. But every member has to consent to supply a picture of their face for comparison. The data would be held by that gym, that business. But they can’t use the data for anything else, such as crime prevention, because permission hasn’t been given by the individual for that.”

That’s the reason shop crime until now has been rampant: every incident has to be dealt with as a new thing rather than spotted and avoided at the outset. It is slow and inefficient and soul-destroying. There has been no legal means of automating pre-emptive detection – until now.

There are three rules of using facial recognition, Nick explains. One is necessity – you need to demonstrate your need for it. You can’t just collect it if you haven’t any crimes. Second, you have to be able to show it’s for crime prevention purposes if you are not getting permission to collect images from the people whose pictures you are taking. Third and most important, you can only hold that data if it is in “the substantial public interest” – so a business can’t do it just for themselves as that is not a substantial public interest.

“But Facewatch is an aggregator of information across businesses and geographic areas which acts as a crime prevention service and we share it in the public interest,” Nick says. “So you need to be a data aggregator, but a camera company can’t be that. Likewise a facial recognition software company can’t be a data aggregator because each company would have a different algorithm and database.”

But Facewatch sits right in the middle. “You just have to make sure all roads lead to Facewatch because that’s how the data becomes lawful to use.”

Big Brother is kept in his cage: there won’t be any nationwide watch-list. Proportionality rules keep it local – a database in London would have a radius of about five miles, but maybe 30 miles in Norfolk. “Guys who go into your readers’ stores and nick booze, deodorant, cheese and meat – they don’t travel more than five miles,” Nick confides. “They only start to travel when you start dispersing them. We put facial recognition into every store in Portsmouth and all the thieves went to Southampton – or to Tesco!”

I want it now!

 

“You could put it up pretty much instantly,” Nick explains when I ask exactly what a retailer would need to do to have Facewatch installed.

“They could either phone us or one of our distribution partners. The distribution partner would then introduce them to one of their re-sellers or installers who would then make an appointment with the retailer to see the site. They’ve got all the tools with them – you have to install the camera on a certain angle, at a certain pitch. It tells them what camera they need and measures the distance. It’s really simple and for a CCTV installer it’s a doddle of a job.”

Facewatch is sold on a per-camera, per-licence basis of £2,400 per annum, £200 a month essentially, which includes all the hardware and licencing and all the sharing of data – everything they’ll need other than the installation and the camera itself. “A lot of retailers already have their preferred installer,” says Nick. “He has to be accredited by Facewatch, and if not, we’ll train him, and if a retailer has no installer, we’ll recommend one.”

It’s pretty straightforward, he adds. “In the same way as they would add more CCTV cameras to their store. Cameras are cheap, £150 or whatever. A standard HD camera is fine. It’s got to be of a certain lens-type and we’ve got an offer at the moment where the camera is free.”

The proposition is that with the average store leaking thousands of pounds a year in theft, Facewatch will easily pay for itself. “Everywhere we have deployed facial recognition, in the first 90 days, from a standing start, even without an initial watch-list, we have seen a greater-than 25 per cent reduction in crime with every deployment,” says Nick.

He adds that it even works with repeat offenders that you might not have put on the watch-list, because the thief is known by some other shop participating in Facewatch and they would see the sign in your window, effectively warning them off.

“We’ve even got a little [digital] tool that we give to our installers, and it works out the ROI,” Nick tells me. “So any store that loses more than £8,000 per year – which is at least half of them – will have an ROI in as little as 11 months, your money back inside a year. I’m just talking about the savings against crime, that’s not to mention all the time you would have had to commit preparing evidence to give the police, and all the hassle and stress you avoid, and managing the emotions of your employees who have been abused or assaulted.”

I ask Nick for his message to the nation’s retailers.

“I can say this,” he answers. “I am not some bystander in an ivory tower who just has a viewpoint. I’ve been a retailer for nearly 30 years. What typically happens in a recession is that money gets tight and crime goes up. What we are about to see is incredible.

“The police are saying they just can’t spare the time to deal with it. That whole, ‘Your problem, not ours’ approach is going to be significantly worse after Covid-19 than before, and it was bad enough then. Facewatch is a really simple deterrent proposition and it’s easy to install. We look after all the data on behalf of our clients – there is a tsunami of crime coming our way.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Nick and Gavin talk about the major escalation of problems on the high street brought about by the pandemic. This is a must-watch for CCTV installers and retailers who need a solution to reduce their losses and help shopworker moral

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In this short video, we preview and test the new Facewatch facemask algorithm. This new upgrade shows a very high level of accuracy and is a great addition to the product especially as the use of facemask and other face coverings is increasing during the gradual return to high street trading

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By  18 March 2020  Retail Week 

As the government takes increasingly stringent action to combat the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, retail staff have found themselves on the front line in the face of panic buying and contagion fears.

  • Labour MP Alex Norris calls on government to pass legislation protecting shopworkers from violence, abuse and assault
  • Morrisons CEO David Potts introduces numerous measures to protect staff, including statutory sick pay
  • Several retailers have called on consumers to treat colleagues with respect in the face of growing concerns around stockpiling

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK is rising daily. The government by its own admission has begun imposing “draconian” measures and many consumers have ignored pleas to the contrary and cleared shelves of some products in a stockpiling frenzy.

While panic buying has mostly taken place in supermarkets and grocery convenience stores, instances of consumers hoarding hand sanitiser, soap and over-the-counter medicines have also hit health and beauty retailers.

Social media, Twitter in particular, has started to fill up over the last few days with stories of frontline retail staff working longer hours and coming face to face with fraught and sometimes abusive members of the public, all the while trying to do their best to keep shelves stocked and consumers happy.

On Monday, Labour MP Alex Norris stood up in Parliament and put forward legislation to protect shopworkers from rising levels of violence, abuse and assault.

Norris said the shopworkers were “on the front line” of abuse and crime, and those worries were likely to be exacerbated amid the growing panic about coronavirus, given the “significance retail workers have in our lives, particularly during this period”.

“With the current coronavirus crisis we would argue that retail staff are essential workers”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw has backed the call and said “retail staff are essential to our communities, particularly during the coronavirus crisis”.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis says: “We have always made the case that retail staff are at the heart of our communities, but with the current coronavirus crisis we would argue that they are essential workers.

“Usdaw members across the retail supply chain and in stores are working hard to keep shelves filled and serve customers. We understand this is a stressful time and remind customers that shopworkers deserve respect and that no level of abuse is ever acceptable. It should never be a part of the job.”

The BRC says it is working with police and partners to “keep retail sites running as smoothly as possible” and that “when circumstances are difficult, retailers are well-versed in providing effective security measures”.

In a statement issued to all Morrisons’ stakeholders yesterday, chief executive David Potts agreed and called on consumers to “treat our colleagues on the front line with the greatest respect”.

David Potts

Morrisons boss David Potts asked customers to ‘treat our colleagues on the front line with the greatest respect’

Potts also called on customers to “please consider others even more so everyone can buy what they need, especially those who are most vulnerable in our society”.

A spokesman from another national grocer said there had been a handful of incidents across its estate, but there had not needed to take on extra security guards.

While some retail staff have faced abuse from consumers, others are also struggling with worries about getting the disease themselves – either from customers or from colleagues.

It is becoming a growing concern for businesses that frontline staff, as well as those working in key supply chain roles such as warehouse workers and delivery drivers, will fall sick or be forced to self-isolate as the virus continues to spread.

Earlier this week, in a call between representatives of Defra, supermarket chains and the wider food industry, the possibility of taking thousands of hospitality workers on secondment to work in food supply chains was raised, according to BuzzFeed news. While this could even increase the risk of spreading the virus, it will at least safeguard vital jobs and supply lines in the sector.

‘Amazing group of people’

Protecting staff from spreading the disease is becoming a top priority. The managing director of one high street food and beverage operator told Retail Week his staff are deep cleaning premises three times a day. Under normal circumstances, they would be deep cleaned twice in a month.

A spokeswoman from the Co-op says it has taken “immediate steps” to safeguard staff including building in “additional working hours for store colleagues to undertake more frequent handwashing throughout the day”.

Morrisons and Boots are among those to have implemented measures designed to enhance hygiene and staff safety.

A Boots spokeswoman says it has been “making sure that our stores, pharmacies, opticians and hearing care facilities are all clean and hygienic”. She also says teams in-store “have access to handwashing facilities and sanitiser”.

Boots bag

Boots has ensured staff have access to handwashing facilities and sanitiser

Morrisons yesterday announced a slew of measures designed to protect staff. In order to reduce the handling of cash by shopworkers, the grocer has asked customers to pay by card or smartphone “where possible”.

The grocer has “been issuing hand sanitiser” to all checkout workers in-store, significantly increased cleaning on surfaces that consumers and staff touch and redeployed staff “who are vulnerable to the virus”.

The retailer has also taken measures to protect staff who either fall ill from the virus or are forced to self-isolate and therefore can’t work by creating a ‘colleague hardship fund’. This will ensure all staff affected by the virus receive sick pay “whether or not they would normally be eligible”.

As the retail sector waits to see what measures will be bought in by the government next, many in the industry are rallying around frontline workers in these uncertain times.

Timpson chief executive James Timpson today described employees as “an amazing group of people who I’m going to need to lean on heavily over the coming weeks and months to keep the show on the road”. Other retail leaders will heartily agree and be doing their best on behalf of their people.