PARIS – Attacks causing terror keep mounting in frequency in Europe, keeping retailers very much on edge.
The latest came Friday afternoon, when a truck rammed into a crowd of people and the Ahlens department store in Stockholm. Four were killed and 15 hurt in the incident at the retailer located in Drottninggatan, one of the city’s shopping neighborhoods.
“Sweden has been attacked. Everything indicates that it is a terrorist act,” the country’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven wrote on Twitter soon after the event. “Be vigilant and listen to police information.”
Metro service in the city was subsequently stopped, the city police tweeted. Meanwhile, the Swedish Parliament was on lockdown and the area around the department store blocked off, media reports said.
The attack, which took place shortly before 3 p.m. local time, came swiftly on the heels of Tuesday’s incident in Saint Petersburg, where an explosion ripped through a subway car, killing at 13 people and injuring more than 50 after a device detonated between the Sennaya Square and Technology Institute stations.
Retail analysts noted the rise of “lone wolf” attacks, carried out by individuals. Those included when a car drove over Westminster Bridge in London on March 22 hitting numerous people. After that vehicle crashed into railings, the attacker continued his rampage and tried to enter Parliament, killing a police officer with a knife. Altogether six people died, including the assailant, and dozens were injured in the event.
And in February, the underground shopping center in Paris’ Louvre museum was the scene of a terror attack involving an intruder wielding a machete, who was shot by a soldier.
“I think there are two ways you can look at it. One is that these things build up and build up, and they create such a level of fear that customers and shoppers are scared to go out,” said George Wallace, chief executive officer of consultancy MHE Retail Europe. “The other side of it is that people become almost inured to it, hardened to it. It’s become a new norm, and they carry on with business as usual. My inclination is that it’s more the latter of those two.”
Regarding safety in stores — which have generally already heightened security levels — Paul Thomas, luxury retail consultant at Retail Remedy, said: “It’s very difficult, because what can you do against people that act on their own? If you have someone driving a truck or a car of a van towards you, there’s not going to be many policies or procedures you can put in place that’s going to stop that.”
Some department stores have high curbs on the street out front for protection, for instance. But Wallace believes it’s difficult for retailers to go beyond a strong security presence as people enter and leave their stores, and that the desire is for shops to remain places of welcome.
“I think the biggest areas of threat are probably not so much individual stores but major shopping malls,” continued the executive, who explained such venues might these days consider having airport-style security, which is common practice in some countries subject to regular major terrorist incidents, such as Turkey.
“Consumers accept it and actually value it as a protection,” he said.