Even with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, many businesses must still change the way they do day-to-day business. The retail industry had one of the biggest impacts to revenue and productivity during the Coronavirus pandemic, and opening doors will still require careful protections for the health and safety of customers and employees. Solutions for retail and other in-person industries are available that detect customer body temperatures and monitor occupancy. These solutions along with strategically placed kiosks will help the retail industry follow safety guidelines while still maintaining revenue flow post-COVID.
Safety Guidelines for Retail Stores
Online orders and delivery are revenue options, but some retailers make much of their income from in-store purchases. Small items can easily be sold online, but industries with large purchases (e.g., automotive, home furnishing) need a way to showcase products in-person to the public. Several government agencies offer best practices and safety guidelines including the FDA, OSHA, and the CDC.
Failure to follow regulations could result in severe penalties. For example, a bar owner in Staten Island, New York was arrested for defying state regulations. A doctor in Oregon had his license suspended after refusing to wear a mask. Although these penalties happened during the pandemic, every industry should expect similar restrictions post-COVID to protect the safety of customers and employees. Violations could mean mandated closures, hefty fines, and possibly arrest. It’s critical that retail owners implement the right healthcare precautions.
Challenges in Retail to Keep Customers Safe While Staying Open
For retailers, it’s imperative that they find a happy medium between strict regulation safety and allowing customers to browse stores, order products, and freely communicate with employees. Wearing a mask, cashier splash guards, and social distancing are good first steps, but technology allows for much more strategic implementations that don’t impede customer activity but keep stores profitable.
Before getting into solutions, it’s first necessary to look at requirements that could affect future business activity within stores. It’s likely that social distancing will still be a requirement. This means that store patrons should stay at least 6 feet from one another. A requirement limiting occupancy should be expected, but patrons should also stay distanced from each other. This can be difficult for store management to control as they don’t know who is with each party and who should be distanced from others.
Occupancy alone is difficult to control. Pre-COVID, store owners could allow any number of people into their stores, but occupancy will be an issue post-COVID. To make it even more difficult, occupancy will likely depend on the size of the store. For instance, smaller stores might only have 10 people allowed inside at once, but larger stores could have 20 provided there is enough space to allow social distancing. The challenge for store owners is keeping track of occupancy as people walk in and out of indoor shops and tracking numbers during peak business hours.
It’s not uncommon for stores to have signs telling customers not to enter if they have a fever or COVID-like symptoms, but some people are unaware when they have a slight fever. Taking temperatures is what many businesses do to avoid spreading COVID. However, having a dedicated employee take temperatures isn’t feasible for many retail stores. Not only is it a healthcare concern for the employee taking temperatures, but it can create bottlenecks in entranceways.
Technology Solutions for Retail Post-COVID
An inefficient solution to retail challenges is to have employees monitor customer temperatures, occupancy limitations, and social distancing. It leaves too much responsibility on employees who also must manage other responsibilities and leaves room for human errors. A simple human error could mean the spread of COVID and penalties for the retail store owner. Technology is available that monitors crucial environmental elements such as human temperatures and occupancy numbers. Retail stores can also leverage kiosks placed in key locations to increase revenue while limiting the number of in-store patrons.
The first solution is thermal screening. As patrons walk into the store, artificial intelligence is used to monitor body temperatures. The technology works with a discrete camera placed at the entranceway where customers and employees walk into the store. Cameras will detect infrared (IR) radiation, which emits for any object or living thing with a temperature above 0° Celsius. Using artificial intelligence, the IR radiation is converted to input and analyzed using algorithms to determine body temperature. Any customer with a temperature over the standard maximum 97.3°F will alert employees who can then manage the situation.
Monitoring occupancy can also be managed using artificial intelligence and technology. Just like thermal screening, cameras can be placed in strategic locations that will detect movement and traffic flow. The technology behind the cameras calculates the number of occupants within the store and reports numbers to an employee who can determine if customers must wait outside.
Forcing customers to stay outdoors can affect revenue, so carefully placed kiosks will reduce the number of indoor customers while still allowing anyone outside to order products. One solution suggested by the FDA is to convert sales to pickup and delivery. With kiosks, the retail store owner can still allow customers to browse indoors, but anyone who wants to simply order can use kiosks, especially during peak business hours where maximum occupancy limitations could be met. Kiosks are placed strategically in heatmaps where customers browse and gather can attract shoppers who are simply window shopping and never planned to go into the store. It’s an effective marketing strategy that increases revenue even without the post- COVID restrictions.
Post-COVID Strategies Can Reduce Stress and Improve Revenue
Retail stores struggled during the Coronavirus lockdowns, but they don’t need to struggle post-COVID as customers leave their homes and shop locally again. With the right strategies, retailers can protect customer and employee health and stay within compliance of federal and state requirements.
The evolution of artificial intelligence makes many of these solutions possible and takes away responsibility from busy employees. Post-COVID revenue recovery is possible provided retailers and every other industry puts healthcare precautions first and focuses on customer service and sales in ways that limit social interaction.