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COVID-19 Case Study: Furniture Retailer Continues to Establish New Normal

Organization: The Asia division of a global furniture retailer, with about 60 of 450 global stores located in Asia.

Key issues:
• Store closures while maintaining staff pay
• Corporate social responsibility
• Reconfiguring stores for social distancing when they reopen

28 July 2020 Update

All of the furniture retailer’s stores in Asia have reopened. Although COVID-19 cases are beginning to creep higher again in parts of Asia after having been kept flat for a couple of months, coronavirus prevalence is relatively low where the furniture retailer does business. A handful of additional staff members have contracted the disease, and those few, whose lives are not in danger, are dispersed across a vast region.

Stores continue to operate at half capacity to accommodate social distancing mandates. Masks are also obligatory, and as engrained part of the culture in many countries, mask requirements have not engendered conflict or resistance. All customers and staff receive temperature screens before entering a store or facility. The thermal cameras used for that purpose do extra duty with people counting and facial recognition.

Security has been involved in the contact tracing process, which is overseen by human resources. Typically, the relevant government agency initiates contact tracing, and the retailer follows up from there. Few new cases have been identified. In one region, the retailer suspected that a few customers might have been infected, but tests came up negative for the virus.

Production levels at factories have picked up to about 80 percent from 50 percent the month before, matching the regeneration of the global supply chain. While all facilities and operations are open, construction on a new distribution center and a new retail branch has been suspended.

4 June 2020 Update

Factories have come back online, well stocked with sanitizer and personal protective equipment. However, factories are running at lower production levels, which is all that weakened transnational supply chains can accommodate. Goods are traveling from production facilities to stores, but the process is slower than before the COVID-19 outbreak.

E-commerce operations and fulfillment teams have faced an onslaught of new online activity—electronic purchases have quadrupled in the past two months as lockdowns began in the region. Temperature screening is conducted for all employees at these facilities. Anyone who registers a high temperature, who is ill, or is subsequently found to have contracted the virus will be evacuated and quarantined. The retailer then conducts contact tracing to identify others who may have been exposed. It cordons off work areas occupied by sick or exposed staff and conducts deep cleaning and sanitation.

No additional workers have fallen ill. A few employees have been asked to quarantine for precautionary reasons, but none have contracted the virus.

As lockdowns have eased in some Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand, some retail outlets have begun to reopen under government restrictions. All stores in these countries use thermal scanners to check customers’ temperatures at the door. Hand sanitizers are ubiquitous, and staff continually clean commonly touched surfaces. To comply with government mandates for social distancing, stores have been forced to reduce capacity by half. Social ambassadors are posted strategically around the stores to ensure that everyone is wearing a mask, to promote social distancing, and to detect, deter, and report infractions. Staff do not typically distribute masks to customers, but they keep some on hand for that purpose. Personnel have also marked off minimum spacing for customers and staff, especially in high density areas such as at cashier stations. In addition, people counters have been installed as another measure to limit capacity.

To assist national contact-tracing efforts, the retailer encourages customers to use government apps to log their entry into stores. However, customers are not required to do so in Malaysia and Thailand. In the soon-to-open Singapore stores, however, customers will be required to document their movements in the government-issued contact-tracing app.

Outreach to affected communities continues on a weekly basis. The retailer now also sends tents as shelters to handle patient overflow in healthcare centers in Mexico and the Philippines. It has distributed about 30,000 tents to date.

April 2020 Update

Many retailers of nonessential goods have been forced to close up shop and concentrate on online sales, and this global retailer is no exception. The Asia region contains about one-quarter of the company’s several hundred stores. Since it was closer to the source of the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the regional crisis management team jumped into action on 23 January, earlier than the corporate team.

The regional team has met weekly since then to discuss business impact, health and safety of workers, and necessary equipment. Within the region, country-specific emergency response teams were spun out to operate on a more granular level. Travel in or out of the region was quickly banned.

All regional governments have mandated shutdown of the retailer’s stores. But no staff layoffs are planned. Workers are being assured that their jobs are safe for at least the next few months. In light of that promise, the security department hasn’t identified any looming security issues.

Factories were shut down until the third week in April. The retailer has stockpiled masks and sanitizer so that personnel in production plants and fulfillment feel safe on the job. Cleaning has intensified, and social distancing is being practiced and enforced. A few fulfillment workers have fallen ill, but they have either recovered or exhibit only mild symptoms. If any plant worker contracts COVID-19, that facility will be closed for disinfection before reopening.

Because the company is known as a good corporate citizen, it has acted accordingly by supporting healthcare workers in nearby communities with food supplies and merchandise discounts, as well as providing food to the less privileged and those hit hardest by the pandemic.

Although the timing isn’t clear, the retailer is preparing to reopen stores. New processes will include thermal screening for staff and customer temperatures, enhanced sanitization, and social distancing via reducing density in stores. For those purposes, as well as for identifying staff, stores will be implementing thermal cameras with facial recognition as well as people-counting ability. The store is planning to operate with these protocols in effect for at least the next year. Some stores around the region are planning to reopen with at least limited hours in accordance with national, municipal, and local orders.


Michael Gips, JD, CPP, CSyP, CAE, is the principal of Global Insights in Professional Security, LLC, a firm that helps security providers and executives develop cutting-edge content, assert thought leadership, and heighten brand awareness. Gips was previously Chief Global Knowledge Officer at ASIS International, with responsibility for Editorial Services, Learning, Certification, Standards & Guidelines, and the CSO Center for Leadership & Development. Before that, as an editor for ASIS’s Security Management magazine, he wrote close to 1,000 articles and columns on virtually every topic in security. In his early career he was an attorney who worked on death-penalty cases.

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