July 23, 2012

Olympic peace for retailers

London Olympics (photo: Steve Oldham_Flickr.com)
Summer Olympics 2012: London in sports euphoria
Few on this planet will not wish the London 2012 Summer Olympics well. At best, they could inspire a generation of young people to health and fitness, regenerate a neglected part of London, and promote international understanding.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the delightfully eccentric Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the UK authorities have strived to make the games as enjoyable and as safe as possible.

Among other security measures, troops have been drafted into the metropolis on a massive scale and surface-to-air missiles stationed on rooftops.

However, are retailers in London and other cities safe from a recurrence of the violence, arson and plunder witnessed on UK streets only last summer? 

Anti-terrorist measures

To date, the media have shown an almost morbid interest in anti-terrorist security measures, but do not believe that marginalised, feral youths will go on the rampage again this year.

Given the failure of the security forces to protect retailers throughout the country less than twelve months ago, hopefully they will have learned from the experience and would now be able to react both faster and more effectively. At any rate, all police leave has been cancelled for the duration of the venue.

Clearly, the social problems which sparked the violence last August have not been solved in the interim, so let us hope that the prevalent Olympic feel-good-factor is shared by the disaffected underclass.

Considering the damage caused not only to countless small shops and convenience stores, but also to the major multiples, including Aldi, Lidl and Makro C+C, last year, retailers remain remarkably reticent on this subject.

Two years ago at the annual IGD Convention in London, the CEOs of Britain's top retailers discussed the state of the industry. On the morning of the venue, breakfast TV announced estimates by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation that child poverty in the UK could rise to 3.1 million people by 2020. Some of the speakers referred to this news and seemed genuinely concerned.

Asda engages local communities

Their voices also had an undertone of astonishment, as if this was something totally new and unexpected. Only Andy Clarke, CEO of Leeds-based Asda, seemed to face reality and discussed the duty of retailers, as important members of their local communities, to involve themselves in improving the social fabric.

Clarke mentioned several measures Asda was exploring, including making retail space available for young people's social activities etc., but his thoughts on community engagement did not seem to generate much interest at the time.

In the 1990s, Lebensmittel Zeitung visited an impressive Sainsbury store in Manchester. A security guard narrated how gangs of youths had repeatedly tried to load shopping trolleys and barge past checkout without paying. He was full of praise for the "fighting quality" of the staff who help his security team in the frequent frays.

Admittedly, this was in the days before CCTV surveillance became prevalent, and checkout layouts etc. have since been altered. Perhaps, though, those who reside in the leafy lanes of Buckinghamshire and Tunbridge Wells should take an odd stroll along inner-city streets?


Related articles in German: By Mike Dawson in Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 30, 27.07.2012


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