Today is Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day in the retail calendar, as consumers continue to cash in on Black Friday discounts and get their Christmas orders in.
With consumers expecting fast turnarounds of online purchases, retailers will no doubt be concerned about supply chains and channels to market – one wrong move could threaten years of brand goodwill. But while these are important considerations, cyber security should be at the top of the agenda.
Earlier this year, the British Retail Consortium released its annual Retail Crime Survey, which indicated that retailers experienced a 15 per cent increase in fraud and e-crime in 2012-2013, with the majority saying that cyber-crime “posed a critical threat” to their businesses. This is unsurprising given how online retail growth has steadily accelerated in recent years. The BDO High Street Sales Tracker shows that online sales are up 31.1 per cent on average each month this year, compared to the same period in 2013.
With the rise in online retailing, the government decided that more needed to be done to protect firms and consumers and, in spring 2013, set up the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) within the National Crime Agency to investigate the most serious incidents of cyber-crime. While the NCCU looks after serious crime, the Home Office heads up Cyber Street, an initiative designed to promote online safety behaviour and confidence in consumers and small businesses.
But for mid-market retailers, there is little support. For them, a cyber-crime may not be perceived as a “serious incident” by the NCCU or fall under the remit of Cyber Street, even though a hacking or phishing scam could be devastating. They don’t command the resources for complex security systems, and cannot access the £4m recently announced by Vince Cable to help SMEs combat cyber-crime.
And with more than 3,000 mid-market retailers in the UK, it is likely that their ability to compete for online sales on Cyber Monday will be sorely hampered if there is any doubt about the security of their retailing systems.
There are simple and effective tools that all businesses should employ to deal with the threat. A recent roundtable with minister Ed Vaizey showed that small and mid-sized firms should train staff to understand cyber threats, update security software, use anti-virus software and use complex passwords. But more needs to be done to support mid-market retailers if they are to continue to grow alongside the rest of the high street.
In our Mid-Market Manifesto, we call for the National Crime Agency to offer a single point of contact for retailers that have been affected by cybercrime. This would ensure that businesses know where to turn for help, but would also help to track emerging threats and collate information that could assist with law enforcement.
Retailers are increasingly using an online presence as an extension to their physical stores, and this is only going to become more common as consumers demand flexibility and convenience when they spend. It’s vital that retailers, especially those in the mid-market, are able to protect their online brand. They need the appropriate support from government to ensure they can compete online, as well as on the high street.