The COVID Effect: How IoT Tech Is Helping Retailers to Adapt to the New Normal

As shops re-open around the world, they must prepare for a completely new retail experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented shifts in consumer habits, completely reinventing the shopping experience. Shops, banks and other physical premises have had to adapt quickly, introducing a variety of measures such as Perspex screens, floor stickers to mark social distancing spaces and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff.

“The pandemic has completely reinvented the shopping experience and forced retail businesses to adapt rapidly to a new reality”

A growing trend in retail for some time, IoT technology is already helping the world of retail adjust to the new normal. With hyper-vigilant hygiene practices in place, there has been a shift towards contactless payments and retailers are likely to explore more touch-free options in future. Just over two years since the first cashier-free Amazon Go* was opened, Amazon* recently started licensing its Just Walk Out* technology so that other retailers can adopt the grab and go approach1.

As more shops begin to re-open following lockdown, they can only do so if they comply with new regulations set out by government guidelines. One of the key issues is maintaining social distancing by limiting the number of people allowed into the store at any one time. Many stores have been doing this manually throughout the lockdown and beyond, with extra staff placed at doorways keeping track of shopper numbers. However, this can be cumbersome, inaccurate, expensive and potentially carries the risk of infection. Using an automated system based on IoT technology could be safer and far more economical.

Intel partner Crosscan* has developed a tool that can help retailers to ensure that they do not exceed a set number of customers in each shop at any one time. The retail digital transformation firm has a long history of innovative approaches to retail management, having created the first cloud-based retail analytics platform in 2003. Combining customer needs with IoT technology, the company now has 21,000 systems installed in more than 49 countries, with more than 800 brands and retailers relying on it to analyse their data.

Crosscan's Occupancy Level Management in Real Time tool uses an IoT sensor to count the number of people going in and out of a store, while ensuring GDPR compliance. Retailers can input a maximum number of people into the system. When this limit is reached, the tool will trigger an action such as a smartphone notification or a message on a display screen informing the customer to wait before entering the store. The new tool can be used as a standalone solution or for existing customers who already own a Crosscan 3D Sensor, they can simply add it as another use case.

"Our Occupancy Level Management in Real Time helps retailers to easily implement new safety concepts and lets customers and staff feel safe while shopping in stores," said Thorsten Cramer, CEO Crosscan. "The footfall data collected is also available online within the Cross Connect IoT platform, enabling additional retail analyses. The Occupancy Level Management in Real Time tool has received a boost because of the current situation, but tracing customer movement with 3D sensors will become increasingly important in future."

German furniture retailer Ostermann* has worked with Crosscan for several years, using the technology for retail analytics. Since the pandemic began, Ostermann has extended the system to use the Occupancy Level Management in Real Time tool in its stores. Other major Crosscan customers include Vodafone* and Deutsche Telekom*, which are both using the Crosscan platform to control thousands of their stores.

The pandemic has completely reinvented the shopping experience and forced retail businesses to adapt rapidly to a new reality. IoT technology was already a key trend in the pre-COVID world, but the mass disruption caused by the pandemic is likely to accelerate its adoption even further. IoT sensors allow retailers to automate processes, such as occupancy control, that help to keep both staff and shoppers safe. With COVID-19 looking unlikely to disappear for some time, retail businesses must keep on exploring ways of operating safely as the situation evolves.

*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others