HMRC Self Assessment Scam Warning

HMRC has issued a warning to those completing Self Assessment tax returns for 31 January not to be caught out by SMS messages and email scams purporting to be from HMRC.

Bogus

An upturn in scams using HMRC’s name has meant that in the last 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contacts from the public, and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down. HMRC also reports that around 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.

Personal Information and Bank Details Sought

Bogus HMRC scams, like all other scams, are designed as an easy way to get money, personal information, and bank details.  With the current bogus HMRC scams, the promise of a refund is the carrot being used to tempt victims to part with personal details and the threat/stick of a fictitious tax bill that needs to be paid is being used to extract fast money.

HMRC warns that criminals are also using the personal information gathered in the scam to access bank details or to sell on to other criminals, thereby increasing the risk of being targeted in more scams and attacks.

What Do The Scams Look Like?

Examples of recent HMRC scam texts and emails show that customers are informed that they have a pending tax refund/rebate or must review a document relating to an application for a rebate.  In both cases, customers are invited to click on a link.  This link directs the customer to a phishing website made to look like the UK government website.  Examples of these and also of recent COVID-related scams are shown on the real UK government website here.

Never, Never

HMRC is keen to point out that it NEVER:

– Sends notifications by email about tax rebates or refunds.

– Asks for personal or financial information in text messages.

– Uses ‘WhatsApp’ to contact customers about a tax refund. This is in response to a scam using WhatsApp recently.

– Uses social media to offer a tax rebate or to request personal or financial information. This is in response to a scam using Twitter recently.

Other HMRC-Focused Scams

HMRC has also highlighted another popular scam whereby a recorded call tells the recipient that HMRC is filing a lawsuit against them and that they need to press a number on the keypad to speak to a caseworker to make a payment.

What To Do

HMRC advises that recipients of these texts, emails, and calls should not reply, not click on any links, and not give any personal or financial details.  Instead, recipients should send any phishing text messages to 60599 (network charges apply), and report full details of the scam emails, texts, WhatsApp and social media messages by email to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. All scam messages should also be deleted from the recipient’s phone or email account as soon as possible.

Those who have fallen victim to this or other scams where there has been a financial loss should contact Action Fraud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Scammers are always ready to exploit fears and desires and this scam plays on both.  Essentially though, this is a phishing scam and phishing emails tend to have elements that give them away if the recipient can resist an immediate emotional response. In the case of this scam, and aside from the knowledge that HMRC does not communicate with customers in this way, the fact that it is unexpected, asks for money/personal information/bank details and is threatening should set alarm bells ringing. Other ways that phishing emails can be spotted include generic greetings (scammers are less likely to personalise), grammar/spelling mistakes, heavy emotional appeals that urge you to act immediately, and anomalies in the email address that a spam email has come from, or in the domain of the link to click on.  Businesses should ensure that staff are made aware of the risk of phishing emails, how to spot them and what to do/what not to do (not clicking on links in emails).  This is particularly important at a time when many staff are working from home and businesses should ensure that staff are kept firmly in the loop about security policy, security best practice, and current threats.

Apple to Pay £85 Million For ‘Batterygate’ Scandal

Apple is to pay $113m (£85m) to put an end to the ‘Batterygate’ scandal, where the company was accused of deliberately slowing down iPhone batteries to prompt users into buying a new iPhone.

What Happened?

Back in 2017, some iPhone users were sharing concerns online that their iPhone’s performance had slowed with age but had sped up after a battery replacement. This led to a customer sharing comparative performance tests of different models of the iPhone 6S on Reddit, which appeared to support the customer suspicions.

Technology website Geeknebench also shared the results of its own tests of several iPhones running different versions of the iOS operating system where some showed slower performance than others.

After customers concerns mounted and received more press, Apple publicly admitted that it had made changes one year earlier in the iOS 10.2.1 software update that is likely to have been responsible for the slowdown that customers may have experienced in iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, and iPhone SE.  The slowing affected millions of people with thirty-three U.S states claiming that Apple had caused the battery-slowing to encourage battery replacement and new phone purchases.

Apple issued an apology to customers in January 2018 but said that motivation for slowing the batteries was a desire to prolong the life of customer devices by managing their ageing lithium-ion batteries and preventing the inconvenience of a sudden and unexpected shutdown.

Settlement

This latest $113m (£85m) settlement is on top of the $500m that Apple agreed in March to pay to affected iPhone owners as a result of a class-action lawsuit. Although Apple has not admitted to deliberate wrongdoing it has agreed to be more transparent over the next 3 years about iPhone power management.

Other Woes

Apple is also being sued by Epic Games in Australia after Epic’s popular and lucrative ‘Fortnite’ game was removed from the Apple App Store in August after it bypassed Apple’s (and Google’s) in-app payment method, thereby depriving the tech giant(s) of the revenue.  Epic has long complained about having to pay between 15 and 30 per cent of transactions made through apps on iOS, and Android.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The whole debacle over appearing to keep quiet about something that essentially appeared to take away performance that customers had paid for and apparently prompt them to spend more money with Apple to fix it, and the obvious financial gain by Apple appears to have been a trust-damaging blot on Apple’s copybook.  It is no surprise then, that Apple is reaching financial settlements and, no doubt, the trillion-dollar company will be hoping to move on quickly.  It should not be forgotten, however, that whatever the reason for the phone-slowing update, it appears to have caused considerable disruption to the service that many customers had paid for, many of whom are likely to have needed their phones for important business matters.  It was a shock to many customers, who chose Apple for many positive reasons and trusted the brand, that anything like this could have happened and this matter is an example of how managing customer relationships in an age where information is shared quickly and widely by customers via the Internet involves making smart decisions about transparency and being seen to be up-front with loyal customers.

Featured Article – The Difference Between Cloud Backup and Cloud Storage

This article looks at the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage and how each contributes to daily business life; business continuity and disaster recovery.

The Need For Storage

Businesses not only have limited hard drive space, plus they are having to deal with an increasing amount of data (primary and secondary), comply with stricter data regulations (GDPR) and are facing more security threats i.e. more criminals working in more sophisticated ways to steal company data.  In addition to these challenges, as highlighted by 2020’s pandemic, more businesses have employees in different locations (working from home) but who still need work apps and data and information to be stored, synchronised, made secure and yet be accessible for work use (and for collaboration). 

With this in mind, some of the reasons why cloud storage is now not only popular but vital for businesses include:

– It avoids the risk of data being lost to hardware/server failure/damage, outages and/or file corruption, the effects of environmental/natural disasters e.g. fire and flood, or damage to/theft of storage media e.g. USB drives or external hard drives.

– Cost efficiency. Cloud storage is relatively cost-efficient and the expense and responsibility of upgrading the storage hardware, data-centres and more rests with the cloud provider.  Also, the customer saves in terms of expertise required in-house and resources (time and staff) that would have been needed to maintain its own cloud storage.

– Lower energy consumption. The energy savings of using the cloud add to the efficiencies mentioned above and can help bring ‘green’ benefits.

– Scalability and flexibility. It is relatively easy and fast to up-scale (or down-scale) in cloud storage capacity.

– Usability and accessibility. Cloud services typically come with an easy-to-use user interface and drag and drop, and help/support is available. With cloud storage, data can be accessed from any device and any part of the world. 

– Increased capabilities. Cloud platforms and the apps and flexible storage that they support can boost a company’s capabilities thereby contributing to its competitiveness.

– Synchronisation. Cloud storage data can be synchronised with any device.

– Centralisation and better control.  Having a centralised, synchronised, up to date copy that everyone can work on enables better data management and helps with day to day efficiency.

– Automation and convenience. Cloud storage only requires clicks from the customer rather than having to set up and swap around hardware solutions (removable hard drives or USBs).

– Supports multiple users. The same cloud environment can have more than one usage and it allows multiple users to work collaboratively on a common file.

– Security. Cloud storage provides compliant (GDPR), safe and secure storage for company data.

The Need For Backup

Things can (and often do) go wrong with company systems, data, platforms, and hardware. Theft, loss, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, data breaches, important 3rd supplier failure or the loss of key employees, and less serious digital events that cause business disruption mean that companies need to ensure, for the purposes of business continuity and disaster recovery, that recent backup (copy) of data is available. Backups are essential files that enable a full restore, and as such are an important element of ongoing good practice. The cloud also offers a convenient backup location for the apps that the business uses as these are also vital parts of the day-to-day running of a business. Although the Cloud is not the only way to back up data i.e. store a copy of data, it is now the preferred method for many of reasons mentioned in the previous section (about cloud storage).

The Difference

The basic difference between cloud backup and cloud storage is, therefore, that cloud backup is a service where data and apps on a business’s servers are backed up on a remote server so that a recent copy can be reinstated in the event of problems such as an outage, system failure, a debilitating cyberattack or natural disaster i.e. it provides a way for files to be restored in the event of data loss. Cloud backup is therefore strongly linked to business continuity and disaster recovery (and the plans for both).

Cloud storage is really a way to supplement and give greater flexibility to the business’s hard drive space and make it easier to access and edit files from different devices, from any location.

Cloud Types

The different types of cloud storage offer different benefits and businesses can choose which type or which combination suits their needs. For example:

– The Private Cloud (internal/enterprise cloud), as the name suggests, is inside the organisation, the resources are not shared with other organisations and are protected from the outside by a firewall.

– The Public Cloud is available to all, mainly paid-for, through third-party services from providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and more, and the resources are shared with multiple other public cloud users. Public cloud services are now extremely popular with businesses. Research by the Synergy Research Group (2019) shows that cloud-associated markets, such as the public cloud, are growing at rates ranging from 10% to over 40% and the annual spending on the cloud may double in four years.  Big growth cloud infrastructure segments are infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) with a massive 44% growth rate. 

– The Hybrid Cloud is, therefore, a mixture of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services, with cross-over between the two.

Remote Working

The remote working resulting from the pandemic restrictions has now only emphasised the value of the cloud for storage, backup, communication and collaborative working but this has also translated into a big boost in spending on the public cloud and this is forecast to grow by 6.3 per cent in 2020 to $257.9bn, up from $242.7bn last year (Gartner).

Although software as a service (SaaS) is expected remain the largest market segment, the desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) segment, although relatively small, is forecast to experience a boost in spending (from $616m worldwide in 2019) due to the fact that it offers an inexpensive way for organisations with large numbers of remote workers to enable staff to securely access enterprise applications from multiple devices and locations.  This has proven to be particularly valuable during the lockdown and beyond. 

In Summary

Cloud storage, therefore, provides many benefits over more traditional, less secure or scalable alternatives and use of the cloud also makes it easier for businesses to ensure that valuable work and data assets are backed-up effectively and regularly just in case they are needed. One lesson that this year has taught businesses is that the unexpected can happen and this emphasises not just the value of the cloud to business operations, but also the value of the cloud to business continuity, disaster recovery planning and how cloud backups feed into these.

Carbon Pollution From Your Emails

A Financial Times report based on work by Tim Berners-Lee has highlighted how sending fewer emails could help tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

Emails and Carbon Production

The idea from Tim Berners-Lee, referenced also by Ovo Energy, is that although emails appear to be more environmentally friendly than using paper, a lot of energy is expended (and carbon produced) in order to allow emails to be used.  For example, for emails to be written and sent energy must be used by servers, home wi-fi, and a laptop.  Also, the carbon emitted to construct data-centre buildings could also be taken into when assessing the environmental impact of email as this represents significant greenhouse gas (carbon) production.

How Much?

Although each individual email is likely to be responsible for producing an incredibly small amount of carbon as a proportion of the 435.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses produced by the UK last year, there is likely to be a cumulative impact. This impact is likely to be made greater by the sending of “unnecessary” emails.

For example, Ovo Energy commissioned (Censuswide) research shows that the 64 million “unnecessary” emails sent every day could be responsible for contributing 23,475 tonnes of carbon a year to the UK’s carbon footprint. Unnecessary emails are categorised as those sent to friends within talking distance, or those containing replies such as ‘thank you’, ‘thanks’, ‘received’, and similar.

Polluting Anyway?

There is, of course, and argument that whether sending emails or not, having laptops, computers, Wi-Fi routers (and more) switched on all the time is contributing anyway to the production of carbon and that separating out the individual contribution of emails is difficult. It could also be argued that game and video streaming and cloud storage have more of a negative impact than sending emails.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many bigger businesses and big tech businesses try, where possible, to reduce any obvious environmental impact but also rely upon carbon offsetting and the funding of environmental projects.  Google, for example, says that, due to carbon offsetting, it became carbon neutral in 2007, has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created and plans to run all of its data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030. Organisations such as Friends of the Earth which points out that “in most cases, it seems clear that carbon offsetting doesn’t work in practice” and Greenpeace which says that “the way out of the climate emergency is just not that simple” and that “Offsetting projects simply don’t deliver what we need” are clearly more sceptical about offsetting.

Reducing the numbers of “unnecessary” emails sent sounds like a good, time-saving and hopefully, energy-saving idea anyway, but businesses clearly need to look at the bigger picture and concentrate more on higher-impact elements too.

Tech Tip – Windows 10 Emoji/Kaomoji Keyboard

If you would like a fast and easy way to include emojis in your writing or get access to a free resource of extra graphics when using Windows 10, you may not know that Windows 10 now has an integrated emoji and Kaomoji keyboard. Here’s how to find it:

To load the emoji/kaomoji keyboard:

– Press the Windows key + ;

– Click on the icons at the bottom of the emoji window to reveal lots of colourful emojis in each category.

– These emojis can also be used as graphics in documents by highlighting them and increasing the font size.

Google Accused of ‘Stealing’ Android Data

Google is being sued for (allegedly) secretly using Android users’ cellular data allowances without user consent, to perform “passive” information transfers.

Passive Information Transfers

The lawsuit was filed by Taylor et al v. Google in a US federal district court in San Jose.  The group of Plaintiffs have filed a Class Action Complaint against Google which alleges that those who own Android mobile devices are having their costly cellular data plans used (secretly) by Google to enable its own surveillance activities.  The complainants say that Android user data plans are therefore the subject of “passive” information transfers which are not initiated by any action of the user and are performed without their knowledge and that these information transfers deprive users of data for which they, not Google, have paid.

Designed That way?

It is also alleged this secret transfer of users’ data allowances can happen when a user is within Wi-Fi range to avoid consuming cellular data allowances but that Google may have designed and coded its Android operating system and Google applications to indiscriminately take advantage of data allowances and passively transfer information at any time of the day, and even when Google apps have been put to the background, the programs have been closed completely, or location-sharing has been disabled.

Didn’t Sign Up To It?

The complainants are also arguing that they didn’t consent to the transfers and what amounts to subsidising of Google’s surveillance, and were given no warning or option to disable the transfers.  It is alleged that although users sign up to Terms of Service, the Privacy Policy, the Managed Google Play Agreement, and the Google Play Terms of Service, none of these documents explicitly disclose that Google spends users’ cellular data allowances for background transfers.

Android Lockbox

One explanation may be the Android Lockbox project, whereby Google collects Android user data to use within Google.  This has been in operation since 2013 and this project is understood to be a way for Google to collect information through its Mobile Services, apps and APIs, Chrome, Drive and Maps (pre-installed with Android) with a view to tracking usage of its own apps and to compare those apps with third-party and rival apps.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The matter is the subject of unproven allegations and a legal case and, as such, there is no official conclusion but based purely on the details in the complaint it does seem that it would unfair for customers to have paid for a certain quantity of data which may not only be technically unavailable when they need it due to background data transfers for Google’s own ends, but that there appears to have been no real consent or no way to stop it.  Some may say that Google appears to have ‘form’ in this area.  For example. Back in May, Google was the subject of a lawsuit by filed over allegations that Google illegally tracked Android users’ location without their consent and that this still happened when location tracking features had been manually disabled. It appears, therefore, that while big tech companies argue that data and information may be legitimately needed to improve services, users are increasingly conscious that there are ongoing issues concerning transparency, privacy and more that need to be monitored and questioned where necessary.

Featured Article – Data Breaches: The Fallout

In this article, we look not just at data breaches but also at the impact of data breaches on business and organisations.

Data Breaches

A personal data breach, as defined by the UK’s data watchdog and regulator, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), is “a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data.” This definition highlights, therefore, that a breach could be accidental or deliberate, and could be more than just about losing personal data.  For example, data breaches could occur through third-party access, accidentally sending data to the wrong recipient, devices being lost or stolen, altering data without permission or losing the availability of personal data.

GDPR

As UK businesses should know, GDPR (the regulations of which will soon be brought into UK law, post-Brexit) alongside The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), covers how companies and organisations collect and handle data. The ICO is the body in charge of enforcing these data regulations.

Under the current law, companies and organisations must notify the ICO of a breach within 72 hours of becoming aware of it, even if all the details are not available yet.

Data Breach Consequences For Businesses

There are many different consequences of a data breach for businesses, not all of which are legal. Examples of the effects that a data breach can have include:

– Loss of customer trust, leading to …

– Loss of customers and, therefore, a loss of income from those customers, and a gift to competitors (strengthening of competitors) as customers jump ship. One well-known example is the TalkTalk data breach back in 2015 where the hack of 155,000+ customer records resulted in the loss of 100,000+ customers within months. 

– Fines. For example, the ICO gave British Airways the biggest ever fine (to date) under GDPR at £183 million for a data breach where the personal details of 500,000 customers were accessed by hackers. In addition to the British Airways fines, other big company fine decisions arrived at by the ICO just in the second half of this year alone for data breaches include Ticketmaster UK Limited on 13 November 2020,  £1.25 million for failing to protect customers’ payment details, and Marriott International Inc on 30 October 2020, fined £18.4million for failing to keep millions of customers’ personal data secure.  GDPR sets a maximum fine of €20 million (£18 million) or 4% of annual global turnover (whichever is greater) for the most serious data breaches, although infringements don’t always result in fines.

– Loss of revenue. A big loss of customers means a big loss of revenue; the knock-on effects of which can be cuts and a loss of jobs.  In TalkTalk’s case, the initial financial hit was £15 million with exceptional costs of £40 to £45 million.

– Other (perhaps unconnected) areas of the business under the same brand being tarred with the same brush.

– Lost potential of future customers.

– Loss of upsell opportunities for other services.

– Falling share prices.

– Damage to reputation. For example, a CISO Benchmark Report (2020) showed that the number of organisations that reported reputational damage from data breaches has risen from 26 per cent to 33 per cent in the past three years. Taking Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal as an example, a survey by The Manifest (2019) showed that 44 per cent of social media users surveyed said that their view of Facebook had become more negative after Cambridge Analytica. Getting a bad reputation can now be exacerbated by the speed of communications, naming and shaming online (often on multiple websites) and the fact that bad news can hang around for a long time on the Internet and can be extremely difficult to remove, hide, or distract from.  Re-building reputation and trust can be a long and expensive process.

– Facing difficult questions, often in a very public setting e.g. Facebook questioned by the U.S. Congress, or a grilling by shareholders, and other business stakeholders.

– Costly disruption and downtime. Data breaches can bring the business to a standstill, and companies without business continuity or disaster recovery plans can suffer more serious financial and other consequences or could go out of business altogether (see below).

– The business being forced to close.  For example, a 2019 survey, commissioned by the National Cyber Security Alliance (U.S.) and conducted by Zogby Analytics found that 10 per cent of small businesses that suffered a data breach closed down and 25 per cent filed for bankruptcy.

– Lawsuits.  Carrying on with the example of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, following a £500,000 ICO fine for data breaches, the social media giant was hit with a £266 billion lawsuit by the Australian Information Commissioner. There is also the possibility that in the event of a data breach, companies may incur huge costs by having to pay compensation to victims.

Damage to the supply chain. A loss of customers and bad publicity that hangs around for a long time can inflict damage to other businesses in the supply chain.  This, in turn, could lead to loss of alliances and synergies that helped create a product’s/service’s differentiation of source of competitive advantage.

– Loss of supplier trust. Many suppliers now prefer to do business with companies that are GDPR compliant as a way of helping to maintain their own compliance.  A serious data breach could not only damage or destroy current supplier relationships but could result in word getting around within the industry, thereby scuppering future value-adding relationships with some suppliers.

End-User Victims

Although the main focus of this article is the effects on businesses of data breaches, it should not be forgotten that end-users who have had their personal details stolen, lost, or compromised are also victims.  It should be remembered that many end-users still indulge in password sharing (using the same password for several websites and platforms) and using generally weak passwords. This can amplify the effects of one data breach through one company as their personal details are sold and shared among other cybercriminals who may use credential stuffing to access other websites for the same user.  Examples of the consequences that end-user data-breach victims can face include:

– Theft of bank details, money, and other personal details.

– Having to change multiple passwords and enact credit freezes.

– Fraud and extortion.

– Identity theft and complications resulting from this.

Biometric Data Breach

As the use of biometric data for verification is now gaining in popularity due its security advantages over passwords, the big problem with a breach of biometric data e.g. faces and fingerprints are that, unlike passwords and PINs, it can’t be changed.  This means that unless there are multiple forms of verification in a system, stolen biometric data could continue to be damaging for an end-users far into the future and could cause problems for companies that have invested heavily in a biometric system.  A recent example of a potential biometric data (fingerprint scanning) breach was where, back in August 2019, Suprema, a South Korea-based biometric technology company, and one of the world’s top 50 security manufacturers, was reported to have accidentally exposed more than one million fingerprints online after installing its standard Biostar 2 product on an open network. The bigger potential problem was that Biostar 2 is part of the AEOS access control system, which is used by over 5,700 organizations in 83 countries, including big multinational businesses, SMEs, governments, banks, and even the UK Metropolitan Police.

Dealing With A Data Breach

How a company deals with a data breach can make a big difference in the outcome for that company.  For example, a good approach to dealing with a data breach may be evaluating the situation, closing loopholes and removing the threat, then offering transparent and open communications e.g. notifying customers, notifying the ICO, issuing a public statement (on the website) and opening communication channels with customers (online chat, social media, telephone, and email).

Prevention

Prevention is clearly the best way to avoid the negative effects of breaches and this requires assessing risks, putting data security and data privacy policies in place, training staff, keeping anti-virus, patches and fixes up to date, monitoring for new threats and potential risks, paying attention to staying GDPR compliant and much more.

Vanish Mode For Messenger and Instagram Chats

Only a week after its WhatsApp announcement for the “disappearing messages” feature, Facebook has announced “Vanish Mode” for Messenger and Instagram to allow the sending of messages that disappear automatically.

Privacy and Secrecy

Facebook says that the Vanishing Messages feature is particularly useful if there is “something you want to say in the moment without worrying about it sticking around” in the chat history.  As with (Facebook’s) WhatsApp disappearing messages, and based on protecting privacy, vanishing messages is pitched as a way of lightening the mood and allowing users to live in the moment without fear of being reminded of what they said forevermore.  This may be a feature that is particularly attractive and useful to younger people, thereby reflecting Facebook’s desired target users.

How It Works

To operate Vanish Mode in Messenger, which is an optional feature, users need to swipe up on their mobile device in an existing chat thread.  This activates Vanish Mode. Swiping up again returns the user to normal chat mode.

Safety and Choice

Facebook says that as well as the opt-in aspect and the simple swipe activate/de-activate giving the user choice, the feature includes safety elements such as only being operational with people the user is connected to, a notification being issued if someone takes a screenshot while a user is in Vanish Mode, and the ability to block someone and report a conversation if the user feels unsafe.

Rollout

Vanishing Messages is first being rolled out on Messenger in the US and in “a handful of other countries” and is “coming soon” to other places. Facebook says that Vanish Mode for Instagram is also coming soon (at an unspecified date).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facebook is on the offensive with its chat platforms and, in keeping with its predicted strategy of furthering the integration and the interoperability of WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, the opt-in Vanishing Messages feature is now being rolled out.  This feature is also another step in Facebook keeping its pledge on improving privacy, a matter which it has suffered a lot of very bad publicity about in the years following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  Facebook is using this time of physical distancing of users to leverage features that may encourage them to make more use of its chat and social media platforms, thereby helping Facebook to compete with rival apps and to re-position its chat apps and social media platforms as lighter and more private.

Retail Adapting To Pandemic Christmas and Beyond

With the UK facing different rules and lockdowns, there’s evidence that retailers are trying to overcome their significant challenges by becoming more agile and adapting where possible.

High Street Decline

Prior to the pandemic, those with bricks and mortar shops in UK high streets were already facing challenges. Research from 2018 (Statista), for example, showed that there were more UK retail and leisure shops closing (50,828) when there were opening (43,278). UK high streets have been in noticeable decline since 2012 due to factors like changes in consumer behaviour (e.g. online shopping) although 2019 ONS figures showed that only 18 per cent of retail purchases in the UK were made online. Other reasons for the decline of the high street include high rents and business rates combined with austerity-hit consumers.

Pandemic

Obviously, lockdowns have prevented many high street stores from opening and consumers have changed their behaviour. This has led to many high street businesses closing. For example, Local Data Company and PWC UK research shows that 11,120 chain operator outlets (a record number) closed in the first half of 2020 due to the pandemic. Also, consumers have now revised their shopping habits to reflect the changes in their needs and wishes, which were re-shaped by the effects of COVID-19.

Adapting

Many retailers, however, have been lucky enough to find the means and a method to adapt to the drastic changes in the high street retail environment. Some of the ways in which retailers are responding include:

  • Using technology to reduce hygiene anxiety e.g. by creating contactless shopping like the Lush Lens app. Also, retailers have tried to create engaging high online-style experiences in high street shopping environments e.g. endless aisle and ‘click and collect’.
  • Retail hubs trying to build a sense of community to gain loyalty and footfall e.g. by selling sells products from local designers and craftspeople.
  • Retailers seeking to change their lease terms to reflect their store turnover.
  • A reduction in numbers of stores (for a chain) in favour of consolidated experiences stores in areas most likely to produce footfall for survival.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

High street, ‘non-essential’ retail businesses and hospitality-based businesses have been hit extremely hard by pandemic lockdowns and regulations.

Adapting not just for the immediate future, but with a view to dealing with longer-term uncertainty and changes in consumer behaviour has become a necessity for the survival of many high street retail businesses. Necessity is often the mother of invention but in a changing situation where businesses have a primary service and position, the kind of agility required at the moment can be a tough call.

Using technology differently to reflect current customer needs (contactless shopping + click and collect) can help but with customer movements and travel restricted, infection rates still rising, and many customers looking likely to shop online en-masse this Christmas, e-commerce and offering future experiences/services that can be ordered/prepaid in advance may be ways in which retailers can keep the lights on until restrictions are lifted sufficiently.

Tech Tip – Sending Delayed Emails

In Microsoft Outlook you can delay the delivery of an individual message or you can use rules to delay the delivery of all messages by having them held in the Outbox for a specified time after you click Send.  Here’s how:

To Delay the delivery of a message:

– When composing the message, select the More options arrow from the Tags group in the Ribbon.

– Under Delivery options, select the Do not deliver before check box, and then click the delivery date and time you require.

– Click on Close (for Delivery Options) and click Send for the email.  The message will remain in the Outbox folder until the delivery time you specified.

If you change your mind and decide to send the email immediately:

– Click on Outbox and open the delayed message.

– Select the More options arrow from the Tags group in the Ribbon.

– Under Delivery options, clear the Do not deliver before check box, click Close, and click Send.

To delay the delivery of all messages (by up to 2 hours) by creating a rule:

– In Outlook, click File, click Manage Rules & Alerts and click New Rule.

In Step 1: Select a template box, under Start from a Blank Rule, click Apply rule on messages I send, and then click Next.

– In Step 1: Select condition(s), select the checkboxes for your preferred options and click Next.

– In Step 1: Select action(s), select the defer delivery by a number of minutes check box.

– In Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value) box, click the underlined phrase a number of and enter the number of minutes for which you want the messages to be held (up to 120 minutes maximum).

– Click OK, click Next, and select the checkboxes for any exceptions. Click Next.

– In Step 1: Specify a name for this rule box, give the rule a name.

– Select the Turn on this rule check box and click Finish.