Monday. 4/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Customer care

Across much of the world, non-essential shops are readying themselves to reopen but the battle against coronavirus is far from over. Various national authorities have released guidelines for shops to uphold in the name of hygiene. Among them: providing hand-sanitiser stations, keeping customers two-metres apart, limiting in-store numbers, installing protective screens between cashiers and customers and, possibly, closing fitting rooms. Pre-pandemic, the bricks-and-mortar shops that succeeded were those that created a dynamic experience, offering customers something they couldn’t get when browsing online from the sofa. Now the challenge is how to create a dynamic experience while also upholding all these guidelines. People won’t visit shops if the experience promises to be stressful.

Solutions will, of course, differ depending on the type of shop. Paula Gerbase, founder of womenswear brand Gerbase and creative director of shoemaker John Lobb, says that shops selling premium products will likely see an increase in shopping by appointment. This will enable retailers to carefully manage customer numbers and to tailor services to an individual shopper’s needs. Other options are more universal. Why, asks Gerbase, do we need single cashier points where customers congregate to pay? IPad payment systems, which enable staff to make transactions from anywhere in the shop, have been adopted by tech-savvy brands already. We’ll see more of that.

Perhaps above all, shops will need more floor space. A key way to achieve this is by reducing the number of goods on display. This could be a silver lining: if designers and merchandisers are forced to make more critical edits about what they showcase it should give retailers a more distinctive point of view. After all, choice is good, but clutter is not.

Politics / India

Long road ahead

The biggest lockdown in human history, in which India’s 1.38 billion citizens have had their movements curtailed for 40 days, will be eased in some parts of the country today. Although India has posted remarkably low rates of coronavirus infection and mortality, the lockdown has resulted in deaths by other causes and left millions of domestic migrants stranded far from home. It’s far from a pat on the back for prime minister Narendra Modi. “A lot of the success of this lockdown has occurred because of the autonomy of the states,” says Kapil Komireddi, author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India. And though trains will now be provided to take the migrants home, the return journey to work won’t be an appealing prospect; it’s a long way from Bengal to Delhi. The proactive steps required to coax people into making the journey (or to help them secure work closer to home) can’t be rushed – but will be key to keeping the economy afloat.

Geopolitics / North Korea

Warning shots

After an oddly quiet April, North Korea reappeared on the scene with a bang this weekend. First there was the sudden resurfacing of Kim Jong-Un (pictured) at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new factory on Friday (almost three weeks without a public appearance had prompted wild speculation about his health); and then shots were fired by North Korean soldiers at a South Korean outpost across the Demilitarized Zone on Sunday. Although no one was injured, this was the first such live exchange of fire since 2017. It’s possible that neither of these incidents is significant – South Korea says it does not believe that Kim was ever seriously ill and the exchange of gunfire was likely accidental – but it’s a reminder that old geopolitical tussles remain volatile despite the world being distracted by coronavirus (which North Korea pretends hasn’t reached its borders). However, if left unchecked, these incidents can spiral into conflicts that would be even more deadly than the virus. The world mustn’t take its eye off the ball.

Defence / Canada

Display of gratitude

The Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds team (pictured) took flight this weekend as part of “Operation Inspiration”: a cross-country aerial acrobatics tour to salute front-line coronavirus workers, while supposedly “boosting morale” for Canadians too. The tour began in Nova Scotia and the nine-plane formation will travel west across the country during the coming week. Although an air show might seem a bit frivolous while most Canadians are still isolating indoors, the air force has reason to be optimistic. In recent years it has been plagued by a shortage of pilots and other personnel. The shortage has in part been fuelled by a booming commercial aviation sector, prompting pilots to trade-in fighter jets for airliners. But with commercial flights currently grounded, the RCAF is reportedly ramping up efforts to lure pilots back, hoping that the military’s stability could help entice them to re-enrol. Early returns, according to the Canadian press, are promising.

Urbanism / Lithuania

Eating out

Residents of Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, had the opportunity to drink and dine outdoors over the weekend after city hall announced that bars and restaurants could set up tables and chairs in its plazas without having to pay for a permit. Championed by mayor Remigijus Simasius, the move will be supervised by city officials over the summer season. Other civic leaders should watch closely. Although studies suggest that coronavirus is less likely to be transmitted in the fresh air, the only outdoor activity that most cities have sanctioned is exercise. Expanding alfresco dining will help businesses; it allows for physical distancing between customers without limiting a restaurant’s capacity or adding costly infrastructure that dampens the mood, such as the perspex divider screens mooted in some cities. Leniency around permit requirements and the temporary reallocation of public space can help local governments fast-track the return to normality without large expenditure.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 195: The Points Guy UK

Nicky Kelvin is director of content for The Points Guy UK, a leading travel-advice platform. The lifelong aviation enthusiast started his career as a music lawyer and photojournalist but turned his side hustle of sharing his travel expertise into a successful career. With much of the world under lockdown, Nicky tells us how best to approach future bookings.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: The Entrepreneurs 2020

The second issue of The Entrepreneurs comes at a time when many founders and owners will be facing the biggest challenge of their careers. To help, we’ve compiled a timely compendium of advice and stories from some of the world’s most resilient businesses, big and small. What tools do you need to survive? And where are the opportunities? Find out here. Available now at The Monocle Shop

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