In the past, health and safety technology applications within retail focused primarily on store employees. A major reason for this was to reduce the high rate of accidents and injuries related to retailing, though low in risk.
However, post-COVID-19 the implementation of these technologies took on a whole new meaning; in that they are expected to create safe and healthy environments for both their customers and staff. The pandemic saw consumers more concerned than they used to be about healthy and hygienic packaging and how companies treat their employees.
Retail health and safety technology has evolved due to rising digital literacy among consumers and e-commerce’s emergence. Retailers ever since have communicated health and safety measures employed them frequently and extensively. Contactless payments and delivery, curbside pick-up, and similar efforts have been constantly highlighted.
Millennials and gen-Z are the biggest consumers of contactless activities, with 79% intending to continue or increase their use. One report on health and safety concerns influencing US shoppers’ shopping habits states that transparency in hygiene and hygiene protocols, including thorough cleaning and wearing masks and gloves, was of utmost importance during the pandemic’s nascent stages.
What technologies have impacted retail the most?
During the pandemic, retailers explored multiple solutions to help keep employees and customers safer – like contactless HTPs (high-touchpoints). Retailers are now applying state-of-art technologies that limit health risks and ensure the safety of the people using their stores and warehouses. Listed below are some of the most innovative in-store technology examples from recent years and since Covid-19 began.
Contactless check-in systems
Among the many examples of technology used in retail is contactless check-in technology. Its a system that entails a complex but seamless integration of devices including RFID, QR codes, and mobile phones enabling employers to inventory employees coming into and out of warehouses and stores. Amazon Go is the best example of this system. It’s being explored by several retailers as a way to manage and optimize all traditional store operations with less overhead, while providing frictionless checkout to customers.
Lone worker appsSome employers may also want to provide employees with wearable panic alarms when they are exposed to high-risk situations. Lone worker apps keep lone workers safe while working alone or isolated in high-risk situations.
Lone worker apps come with a lot of features that could come in handy during an emergency. Some of those features include real-time location monitoring and duress/panic alarms to alert first responders in an emergency. Others may include safety features such as periodic check-ins, overtime alerts, hazard reporting and safety checklists.
Employees working alone can download these apps onto their smartphones and use it to trigger panic alarms. While the basic function is to raise SOS alarms should they require help or if they are in danger, incurred injuries, etc. Employers can even use the app to manage lone worker risks or check on their welfare, supervise, train and respond to incidents.
In the workplace, such lone worker apps can reduce risk factors like non-fatal falls, handling hazardous substances, fires, injuries caused by heavy equipment or moving parts, or overexertion injuries (pulling, pushing, carrying, holding, lifting, and throwing objects).
Indoor positioning systems or Instore traffic control
To improve store efficiency and understanding of how store layout impacts visitor journeys, retailers invested in Indoor Positioning System (IPS) technology before COVID-19. Data collected from IPS serves as part of the process of creating an efficient, seamless customer journey that enables people to find exactly what they need and maybe make a few impulse purchases while in the store.
There is a potential for social distancing issues to arise when disgruntled customers need to wait to checkout or pick up an order. Going forward, the priority will be ensuring that store layouts consider occupancy limits and social distancing measures to optimize the visitor experience.
In order to make their stores more accessible and safer, retailers need to monitor overcrowded, underutilized pathways and bottlenecks at certain aisles or displays. In Target stores, a Bluetooth-enabled IoT light system helps guests use the Target app on their phone to locate their place in the store and find what they need using a map.
The concept began with consumers relying on video technology for their shopping via remote shopping assistants, where they felt confident shopping from home. Video calls allow customers to communicate over products and services in an interactive and one-to-one manner.
It is a win-win for both retailers and consumers to use video content to promote products and services even after restrictions were lifted, as video shopping offers more detailed information on products, allows viewers to watch videos, and allows shoppable video platforms to promote products and services using functionality. According to companies that provide such technologies, there has been an 800% increase in demand for video-based technologies.
Touchscreens in new age-retail stores enable retail workers and customers to easily access product information. However, those screens could pose a health risk as they are high-touch points. Touchscreens with antimicrobial coatings are proving to be effective against coronaviruses.
It is one of the smaller, innovative solutions that are helping people to return to normal life while enabling businesses to reopen safely, protecting their customers and their employees. The brainchild of Kastus, these self sanitizing touchscreens have a photocatalytic coating that is activated by light and contains reactive oxygen species that instantly neutralize microbes.
Automated door access
In many retail stores, one-in-one-out strategies control the flow of visitors in and out of the store by having a member of staff stand at the entrance. As a result, they don’t exceed their maximum density, and everyone inside can adhere to social distancing guidelines as much as possible.
It is not ideal nor efficient to record such footfall data manually. Besides the manual effort, it requires dedicated staff, which is an additional burden for retailers. For this reason, several brands, like Aldi in the UK, use automated traffic light systems in many of their stores.
A security camera or other 2Dor 3D sensor is used for this technology, which counts visitors entering and leaving a venue automatically. It is possible to connect this data via APIs to traffic light systems or display screens that show the number of people in a venue and if it’s safe to enter or if they should wait.
The software allows stores to automatically control the flow of visitors into and out of the store, making queue management much easier. In addition, stores do not have to rely on staff members manually counting visitors and estimating their capacity.
To conduct a non-invasive, preliminary screening of personnel entering a facility, Honeywell is developing a solution that incorporates infrared imaging technology and artificial intelligence algorithms. At the entrance to a distribution center or other commercial building, the system quickly and efficiently identifies whether any of their employees or customers is experiencing elevated temperatures.
Thermal imaging cameras automatically detect the skin temperature of individuals as they pass in front of them within two seconds, and the information is displayed on an accompanying monitor. Operators can take measures to ensure the security and safety of their premises by receiving reliable, real-time information about personnel entering their facilities through the thermal imaging layer, the manufacturer asserts.
Through the use of modern technology, stores can emphasize the safety of customers and associates in innovative ways, enabling consumers to return to shopping in-store once more. Social distancing regulations were enforced during the pandemic using sophisticated sensors, cameras, mask detection, self-checkouts, and AI. These solutions still have useful applications today. In response to customer demands, retailers are increasing their IT investment and reinventing their business practices to meet customer demands in innovative ways.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, retailers are even more aware that they need to transform to remain competitive. A protocol-compliant environment can be achieved by combining the right strategic initiatives and technology. Where do you get started? We can help you determine which technologies are suitable for your store to meet the new norm’s table stakes. Contact us to learn more about our technology tracking capabilities.