The Digital Steppingstones to a Post-Lockdown Era for Retailers

By Michael Elliott, CEO of Over-C

Customers are, slowly, beginning to return to our high streets and shopping centres. Whilst this is obviously good news for the sector, an increase in visitors also comes with an increased risk of COVID transmission. So how do retailers ensure that their stores continue to welcome shoppers back through their doors whilst also keeping both them and members of staff safe?

Part of the answer lies in digital technology, which, after years of helping to make retail more efficient by optimising everything from work orders to energy consumption, is now paving the way for a safer shopping experience post-lockdown:

Keeping Customers Safe

At its most basic, digital technology will help retailers navigate through government guidelines by monitoring metrics such as queue length and footfall. Instead of having a member of staff manually counting the number of people coming in and out of a store, sensors can be used to monitor incoming and outgoing customers in real time to ensure that crowds are kept to a minimum and social distancing measures are easy to implement.

Hygiene regimes will also be stepped up in the ‘new normal’, in an effort to both combat the virus, but also to reassure the public that they are in a safe environment. Digitalisation ensures that, through a system known as flagging, managers can monitor in real-time the cleanliness of, for example, toilets and other communal areas. They will also be able to see how often those facilities have been cleaned and, through footfall monitoring, how often they should be cleaned based on how many are using them. Ensuring a clean appearance is vital to improving customer satisfaction, as well as keeping customers safe, in the immediate post-lockdown period and beyond.

Protecting Frontline Staff

From a backroom perspective, mobile frontline management technology can also be used to ensure employees are kept safe from the virus. Apps on handheld devices can ask employees to fill out self-declaration forms on potential COVID symptoms, allowing for real-time insight into which members of staff may be displaying signs of the virus. Mobile solutions like this can be complemented with temperature checks at using infrared technology to log if an employee develops a fever, a classic COVID symptom.

Tracking symptoms is important, but containing potential outbreaks is crucial if retailers want to protect staff and customers. IoT technology can help with that, too. By deploying RFID technology (a fancy name for Bluetooth), managers can track which members of staff are working and accessing certain areas. This technology allows for insight into who has worked where and who has come into contact with whom. This “track and trace” approach means that if a member of staff does display COVID symptoms, store managers will be able to easily recall accurate data on who they came into contact with and ask that they go into isolation and take a test.

Allowing for localised contact tracing will keep staff safe and, if an employee does come down with symptoms, avoid a wider staff outbreak.

Retailers are set to get busier in the coming months as we begin to return to normal and enter the busy Christmas shopping period. This is undeniably a good thing for the sector, but without proper preparation shops could be putting their customers, as well as their frontline staff, at risk. Digitalisation offers retailers an effective and rapidly deployable steppingstone to COVID security as we enter the new normal.

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