Pandemic’s effect on retail: Change is here to stay

“Contactless delivery,” “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place.” A new vocabulary is just one of the COVID pandemic’s many effects on daily life. Retailers are also adapting to new rules for conducting business as they try to return their operations to near pre-March 2020 levels.

Many of the big retail shifts we’ve all seen over the past few months were in motion even before the pandemic. But their rate of adoption was accelerated out of necessity as the typical rate of industry-wide change compressed from years into months.

Retailers have shown extraordinary resilience and creativity as they re-think their business models and operations, creating an entirely new retail experience for their customers that is focused on safety and convenience as much as on quality and shopper satisfaction.

Brick-and-mortar operations, already undergoing tremendous change, have adapted their operations further to comply with health regulations and reassure their customers that their shopping experience will be safe. This includes enforcing mask-wearing guidelines, ensuring physical distancing, controlling store occupancy levels, introducing contactless transactions and more.

As we evolve from high-touch, personal retail environments to increasingly “self-service” models, the new consumer behaviors formed as temporary measures during the pandemic will become permanent habits the longer they remain in place. Customers will come to expect these new levels of convenience long after the health crisis is over.

With the recent spikes in virus cases and businesses facing the threat of possible reclosures, consumer confidence will only return if people feel safe. Retailers will have to make their customers’ in-store experiences better than before. They must give people a reason to visit that is so compelling it justifies any potential exposure to health risks and overcomes the stay at-home shopping behaviors adopted during the shutdown.

This renewed retail focus on public health and safety creates an expectation that companies truly “care” about their patrons. Creating a safe environment effectively and often at scale requires an imaginative deployment of the right technology to safeguard staff and customers alike.

In the pre-COVID world, a retailer’s primary focus was providing goods and services to meet consumer demands at a reasonable price. The main role of security cameras was to protect property, keep employees and customers safe and act as a deterrent for theft and other illegal activities.

“In the “new normal,” security is still the primary driver behind retailers’ use of video, but cameras and other devices are now performing a number of crucial functions that go well beyond surveillance.”

In the “new normal,” security is still the primary driver behind retailers’ use of video, but cameras and other devices are now performing a number of crucial functions that go well beyond surveillance.

Using AI-based video analytics, retailers can comply with social distancing policies by easily detecting and counting the number of people entering and exiting premises from multiple entrances. The current occupancy levels are clearly displayed for customers and staff and when maximum occupancy is reached, an application automatically displays a red ‘Wait’ message along with the number of people currently inside. When numbers are below the threshold, a green “Welcome” message is displayed so new customers can safely enter.

The public-facing display messages are customizable and can include the name of the business in addition to the “stop” or “go” indicators. The system can also generate alarm outputs to control automatic doors and traffic beacons for additional control. Using this technology lets a retailer prevent overcrowding without having to station employees at the entrance, preventing them and customers from risk of infection.

Traditional people-counting solutions required overhead-mounted cameras, limiting their use to strictly counting. Deep learning AI technology adds the flexibility to mount cameras in more common surveillance positions, providing additional business intelligence such as calculating conversion rates based on footfall and purchasing activity.

Social distancing is now an accepted norm for shoppers. Video technology can detect when people overstep prescribed safe distances when they are browsing shelves or waiting in check-out lines. The video system can immediately trigger an alarm alerting store management to remind shoppers to keep a safe distance using automated voice down messages.

Mask detection analytics are also now available to help retailers detect if facial coverings are not worn or worn improperly. If a person enters an area without a face mask or improperly wearing a face mask, customized audio messages are played asking them to comply with the policy.

Alarm events can trigger a beacon or access control system. For example, our Wisenet WAVE VMS can receive mask detection alerts making it even easier for operators to verify any violations of mask policies.

These are just some of the possibilities for retailers using surveillance cameras to address the new operational challenges posed by the pandemic. Cameras that may initially have been deployed only for security purposes are transforming into intelligence-gathering solutions that directly impact a store’s bottom line from both an efficiency and a loss prevention perspective.

As retail businesses re-open their doors, it’s critical for customers to see and feel that adequate precautions are in place enabling a safe experience. This peace of mind is the foundation for building and maintaining long-term trust and confidence in a retailer’s brand.

To learn more about Hanwha Techwin’s full line of healthcare solutions, visit hanwhasecurity.com

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About Hanwha Techwin America

Hanwha Techwin America is a subsidiary of Hanwha Corporation, a South Korea-based company. Hanwha Techwin is a leading global supplier of solutions for IP and analog video surveillance. Building on the company’s history of innovation, Hanwha Techwin America is dedicated to providing solutions with the highest levels of performance, reliability and cost-efficiency for professional security applications.

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