The world as we know it is changing and as society begins to navigate life after lockdown, it is clear to see that many things will never be quite the same as they were before the Covid-19 pandemic. People’s attitudes are changing and businesses across the retail sector will need to work with shoppers and consumers to find a ‘new normal’.
As consumer habits are evolving, experts have coined a new phrase ‘Low Touch Economy’, which outlines a standard for hair, beauty, and other retailers to follow to ensure they don’t get left behind in a post-lockdown world.
What is the Low Touch Economy though, and what measures have businesses had to bring in to prevent re-closure? In this article, we use a case study of Tom William Maddison Hair in County Durham to explore the challenges faced in reopening his hair-styling business and adapting to new protocols.
What is the ‘Low Touch Economy’?
Low Touch Economy, a concept introduced by the Board of Innovation, provides retailers with a business model to follow for health and safety purposes following lockdown.
With social distancing rules needing to be adhered to for the foreseeable future, shop owners and their employees will need to utilise the technology available to them to avoid unnecessary human contact.
For hairdressers like Tom Maddison, who work in close proximity to their clientele, this means plenty of PPE protocols, contactless payments, and numerous hygiene requirements that all allow him to operate safely.
The measures mean that less clients are seen on a daily basis, but the low touch economy is growing in popularity and it is vital for retailers to take note. While searches for ‘non-contact’ rose 91% between February and April 2020, ‘low touch’ also saw a 75% spike in the same period, and a 133% hike when exploring the year-on-year results.
Sparkling floors rebuild confidence
At Tom William Maddison Hair, industry-approved anti-bacterial sprays and disinfectant in a barbicide solution are being used to clean tools and surfaces between every customer. Owing to the space available to him, Mr Maddison has also enforced a one-in, one-out system for customers to minimise risks.
He said: “Throughout lockdown I started to buy the amount of PPE that I thought I would require to safely complete my job without putting anyone at risk. I have seen other salons charge a standard or premium PPE package, which isn’t optional and must be bought even if the client has their own PPE.”
While Maddison encourages contactless card use, he does also cater for cash payments, with a special box installed in the salon which is isolated for three days before any money is handled to prevent the risks of contamination.
Remaining operational in PPE equipment
Social distancing measures and cleaning routines have been fairly straightforward to implement according to Maddison, who has a range of posters and floor stickers in his salon to remind customers of the Covid-19 protocols, but he claims PPE has thrown up a few operational difficulties.
He said: “PPE at first was unusual to work with, as I have never had to wear a visor when cutting hair. It does obscure your vision; however you learn to adapt, and you adjust your working style to include PPE into it. I’m just lucky that I don’t have to wear glasses, I see so many of my clients and others steaming up when they wear masks — I think it would be good to see an invention that prevents this, especially for stylists who do wear glasses.”
Printing firm Where The Trade Buys, which has produced a range of health and safety essentials for businesses across the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic, urged that businesses rebuild confidence among consumers by implementing the government guidelines at the earliest opportunity.
Chief Executive Officer, Gary Peeling, said: “As an experienced print provider, we want to help reassure unions and industry bodies about companies' ability to source personal protective equipment (PPE). Like other members of the print community, we’ve been anticipating this transitional period when lockdown is eased.
“It may not be business as usual, but with the UK government announcing that social distancing and increased hygiene measures are likely to remain in place until the end of the year, health and safety should be everyone's top priority.”
There are clearly many challenges for the retail sector to consider when it comes to keeping employees and customers safe, but government guidelines are constantly being updated, and the protocols are becoming easier to implement.