More staff, more consumers... and more theft. Retailers need to be prepared on all fronts

Despite recent reports that footfall numbers and high street spending are down, Christmas is still Christmas and there are considerable sales to be made. Being prepared is essential. So what should be on your checklist to ensure a happy outcome in every respect?

Taking on Christmas staff is essential for most retailers and can in many cases make or break sales figures. However, effective induction, training and motivation are crucial in order to make the most of sales opportunities but also to avoid legal hiring and firing disputes.

So, too, is ensuring that all new staff are aware of disciplinary issues; ill health and sickness absence; grievance procedures; equal opportunities; and bullying and harassment policies. If procedures are in place and properly followed, they can go a long way to reducing the time and cost of potential claims. You can also be liable for the actions of temporary staff if they harass other employees.

Similarly, health & safety procedures must be reviewed both with regards to the new intake of staff and for the expected increase in footfall. Accidents do happen, especially during the busiest periods where many stores can become quickly overcrowded, but retailers must protect themselves and their staff from slip and trip claims.

Again, if effective policies and practices are in place, and effectively communicated, the chances of incidents occurring are severely reduced .

Some reports have suggested that more than 105,000 thefts will take place over the next four weeks as shoplifters target up to £500m worth of stock, the most popular of goods being designer label perfumes, whisky and women's wear. The reality, though, is that very few apprehended shoplifters ever get to see the inside of a courtroom so civil recovery is increasingly becoming a favoured option open to retailers. Rather than going to court, civil law enables retailers to recover the costs and losses caused by a thief directly from the person concerned.

One of the biggest and, perhaps the most important, change to retail patterns this year is online retailing. Predictions for annual online spend in 2007 are in excess of £40bn. Of the £26bn increase in retail sales in the past five years, £24bn of that was online.

Some of the larger e-tailers are preparing for 650 orders every minute as an estimated 27 million online shoppers in the UK spend a record-breaking £13.5bn online in the run up to Christmas - more than both France and Germany put together. That not only places a huge burden on the distribution channel but also on the importance of a fully working website. Cyber squatters, therefore, are a big issue, especially for high-profile retail brands. To protect domain names and trademarks, all distinctive signs, words, logos and slogans that are brand-specific should be registered as trademarks, and online material regularly reviewed.

The biggest turn off for online retailers, however, is fraud. According to a Home Office study, the cost of identity theft in the UK has grown to £1.7bn, with more than 67,000 victims last year. Retailers are awarding internet security the upmost importance and must continue to update systems, especially as multi-channel technology use becomes more popular.

Whether in-store or online, retailers need to make sure they're prepared. It could make the difference between a happy Christmas and an expensive new year.n

Antony Gold, head of retail, Eversheds