Creating Safer Retail Environments in the Age of COVID-19

As lawmakers across the country weigh the effects of reopening their economies, many leaders of mid-size and large corporations appear to be taking the matter into their own hands. Reports from the field suggest that many Americans dramatically shifted their daily habits to adhere to stay-at-home orders during the early weeks of the pandemic, yet by late April our country experienced a decline of approximately 13% in physical distancing efforts by individuals. 1

As the world’s businesses evolve themselves to recover and resume “business-as-usual”, what we used to consider “usual” will undoubtedly change. Perhaps the most apparent change will be the way consumers interact with retail environments, like supermarkets, hardware stores, and shopping centers.

With the implementation of physical & social distancing, mandatory facial coverings, and meticulous sanitation practices, retail environments have been compelled to meet what lies ahead as America begins its re-opening process. For brick-and-mortar stores, big or small, that are scrambling to explore this new frontier—security cameras, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and audio devices can enhance shopper safety.

We have been listening to the marketplace, and this is the summary of those discussions.

Entrance

Take, for example, a hardware store. This store may well have incorporated access control and traffic monitoring technology powered by an AI application so that customers are greeted at the entrance by cameras equipped with edge AI and two-way audio devices. Utilizing people-counting analytics, these advanced systems are programmed to limit entrance to the store once it reaches capacity. By setting an in-store customer capacity threshold, the system can monitor the number of customers already inside in real-time. When the number of shoppers exceeds the threshold, two-way audio devices can voice-direct those at the entrance to wait momentarily, until they are able to safely enter the store.

Additionally, facial recognition analytics can be incorporated into the video platform, flagging any customers who are not wearing masks and broadcasting an announcement advising and reaffirming the rules before allowing entrance. Not only does this help reduce the likelihood of transmission between customers and employees; but it also helps to ensure customers are complying with local and federal regulations.

Aisles

Physical distancing has proven to be a cornerstone of control for this respiratory and airborne virus. Because of this, once customers are in the store avoiding physical contact is an important step toward reducing cross-contamination. Video analytics can be pre-configured to detect the distance between people; such that, when the distance is less than a pre-set value, an alert can be triggered. Two-way audio systems can then announce a pre-recorded message to warn shoppers to avoid violating social distancing practices.

Many retail stores now have set “paths” guiding their customers through each aisle of their establishment to minimize traffic buildups in any specific area. As customers move through the store, cameras can monitor the number of shoppers in each aisle or section. If the traffic in one area becomes too heavy, another pre-recorded message can be played to alert customers to wait before moving on.

Checkout

As customers conclude their shopping, the same two-way audio, and AI-enabled camera systems can observe checkout lines to measure the distance between customers and confirm that social distancing practices are being followed. This system can also safeguard cashiers and baggers by monitoring the physical distances between them and customers. If a shopper comes too close to cashiers, two-way audio devices can broadcast messaging to remind customers of social distancing best practices.

In these changing times, protecting the health and safety of consumers and employees is a top priority for brick-and-mortar retail organizations. Specialized security solutions can provide brick-and-mortar retailers with tools to adapt and protect themselves against these new threats.

1 McMinn, Sean, and Ruth Talbot. “Mobile Phone Data Show More Americans Are Leaving Their Homes, Despite Orders.” NPR. NPR, May 1, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/01/849161820/mobile-phone-data-show-more-americans-are-leaving-their-homes-despite-orders.
 

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