Covid-19: The new normal for retailers

10 Min Read |
Woman carries shopping basket on busy street

As retailers plan for the future, many will need to re-evaluate not only what security systems they have in place, but also what security means to them – and redefine the value and purpose of security altogether.

Covid-19: The new normal for retailers

Workplace Safety: What can retailers learn from security solutions used in other sectors?

With many retailers preparing to reopen over the next few weeks and more staff returning to work, we take a look at how security systems and the technologies used in other sectors can help retailers comply with the Government Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance on working safely in shops and branches.

As retailers plan for the future, many will need to re-evaluate not only what security systems they have in place, but also what security means to them – and redefine the value and purpose of security altogether.

 This blog will cover:

  • Security systems used in commercial sectors
  • What are the challenges for retailers during COVID-19?
  • Coronavirus guidance for working safely in shops and branches
  • Limiting customer numbers
  • Queue management and social distancing
  • Improving customer flow
  • In-store temperature checking

Workplace Safety: What can retailers learn from security solutions used in other sectors?

Security solutions are similar in many industrial sectors but the level of sophistication, automation, and integration can vary hugely. One of the most intensive and diverse sectors for security solutions is often found at airport passenger hubs, where operators are faced with a set of factors that aren’t frequently found in combination anywhere else:

  • Multiple levels of access are required for public, operational staff, key personnel, maintenance teams etc.
  • A range of security levels are required from high-security environments around border control and passenger security to low-level monitoring of car parks etc
  • Very large numbers of people need to be managed as there is a high throughput of transient visitors at most times, day and night

The challenge very often is to provide the right level of security without restricting the flow of people and managing the peaks and troughs in the most effective way.

Some of the security systems frequently used will often include:

What sort of security do retailers need?

Apart from rare occasions, such as highly anticipated product launches or mega sales, retailers are not typically faced with comparable security challenges.  While a jeweller may have high-security requirements, they rarely have significant numbers of customers at any given time, and a high street fashion retailer may have considerably more footfall than a jeweller but they would not typically need such a high-security environment.

Man uses smartphone in retail shop

What are the security challenges for retailers during Covid-19?

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t suddenly changed the need for security – the security levels remain the same and, if anything, there will be fewer people within a store – it has however brought about its own set of challenges that retailers have never had to deal with before.

  • Limiting customer numbers
  • Queue Management
  • Social Distancing
  • Customer flow
  • Temperature checking
People queueing outside building

The government’s ‘Working safely during COVID-19 in shops and branches’ guidance booklet provides advice on how to work safely during the ongoing pandemic.  It covers a range of issues, including:

  • Cleaning
  • social distancing
  • PPE and workforce management
  • inbound and outbound goods
  • managing customers and contractors.

Selected businesses and retailers are only allowed to open once they have completed a risk assessment, in consultation with trade union representatives or workers, and are confident they are managing the risks.  It is the customer and risk management aspect that other commercial sectors may have invaluable expertise; where retailers may be able to put security solutions to good use as shops begin to reopen.

Can you automatically limit customer numbers?

‘Working safely during COVID-19 in shops and branches’ advises retailers to limit the number of customers in the store and at pinch points and busy areas to minimise contact.  We have seen some supermarkets putting staff on the doors as a manual measure, but this isn’t practical long term and is expensive.

Site Occupancy Management is a great solution. The system automatically detects a person to measure body count at that given location so you can manage how many people can be in an area.

People counting or footfall Counting

Many sectors successfully use people counting video analytics to count people in and out of areas (typically to avoid overcrowding).  Retailers will often refer to “footfall” to indicate how many people have entered a store or passed a location, and so video analytics could be readily adopted by retailers for entrances and exits.

How do footfall counters work?

Very often, a simple infrared beam is used at an entrance and a count kept on the number of times the beam is broken during the day.  However, this is often only an indicative figure as its easy for 2 or more people to enter at the same time and only get 1 beam activation. Also, there is no differentiation between someone entering and someone exiting which can produce misleading figures.

How does CCTV people counting work?

Much like footfall counting, CCTV cameras are configured to monitor a scene and detect when a virtual boundary line is crossed.  Unlike simple footfall counting however, video analytics can provide a more accurate reading for retailers that need real-time information linked with other systems that might automatically prevent access until some people have exited a store.

The cameras can also detect the direction of travel across the virtual boundary line so the system is able to know if the individual is entering or exiting, even at a single point of entry.

Video surveillance and video analytics can also be used inside stores and shopping centres to target crowds and potential problem areas.  The software provides an estimation of the number of people present in a given area and can generate an alert if the occupancy of an area exceeds a specified threshold.  You can then communicate with those people advising them to move two metres apart or even to move out of the area altogether.

Time lapse of people shopping in department store

We don’t know what facilities will be available in shopping centres when they re-open, but people counting could be used to ensure that regular cleaning of high use areas is conducted by providing alerts to cleaning staff after a specified number of visits for example.

Automation of these measures would help protect customers and staff and free up personnel for other activities.

Door entry systems

Smaller stores with smaller budgets may want to consider a door entry system to simply lock people out to keep the numbers within limited.  Many jewellers, especially overseas, have been doing this for years for security, using a buzzer entry system with a 1 in 1 out policy. Most businesses have some sort of door entry system or intercom to allow access to reception areas or meeting rooms, and there are many ways these technologies can be employed in stores to limit access as needed.

How can you best manage queues and maintain social distancing?

Limiting the number of people allowed into shops leads to queues, as we have all seen.  While the British public are well known around the world for our love of queuing, remaining two metres apart is new to us all.  It’s safe to say, some people have a better grasp of two metres than others!

Standing on chalk lines marked 2m apart

Provide a guide

Simple guides on the floor help to remind customers to keep their distance, and for many this is the most simple and effective method to use.

CCTV Monitoring

For a higher level of automation and staff protection, queues can also be monitored through CCTV, combined with an Audio Talk-down service where operatives can issue a live alert if queues become unruly.  Many new CCTV cameras already have two-way audio so you may find you can use your existing external security cameras for this purpose.

Can customer flow be improved?

One-way systems through stores, with clear floor markings and signage, are considered an important aspect. 

Using separate entrance and exit points

You will have seen that many large supermarkets have been using separate entrances and exits. Not all store designs allow for completely separate entry and exit points, but often automated doors can be used to only open in one direction and internal barriers could be used to help separate incoming and outgoing visitors.

Store owner leans against doorframe

Changing store Layout

Store layouts themselves can prove to be difficult when trying to maintain distance from other shoppers. Many stores are organised to provide a pleasant browsing experience for the visitor, (eg: placing fresh produce at the front). During times of social distancing, stores should be able to quickly reformat the layout, maybe restricting access to particular (less essential) areas. This can be difficult however for stores that have hard-wired security systems and equipment that cannot be easily moved.

Improvements in monitoring and security equipment already makes it easier for cameras to be re-programmed or moved to cover different areas and to watch for people loitering or backtracking. Next-generation cameras only require a power source and have built-in Wi-Fi capabilities allowing them to find their own connections and transmit video directly to monitoring centres.

Ceiling camera in clothing store

Backtracking Solutions

People going the wrong way – referred to as ‘backtracking’ in the security sector – is a major headache for airports.  Anti-backtrack monitoring systems are frequently used to ensure people are prevented from moving against the expected direction of flow. CCTV identifies people going in the wrong direction and automatically closes doors, blocking their path. Automated announcements are made to re-direct them and doors are re-opened as they move off.

In a retail environment, there may not be any doors to physically prevent backtracking, but this sort of analytics could be adapted to make automatic announcements or issue a voice alert. It could also be used to highlight any problem areas were retailers might want to investigate alternative routing options or use additional signage to help direct people.

Wrong way sticker on floor of store

Is temperature checking acceptable in a store?

Many types of businesses are now considering using thermal camera solutions for staff and visitors coming on-site. Handheld temperature measurement devices can be used but it’s far more effective to automate this process using a thermal camera as they are a quick and efficient method of getting a temperature reading while maintaining social distance.

Thermal cameras can also be linked to doors to allow or prevent access, or alert staff if a high temperature is detected. Thermal cameras are not medical devices and cannot diagnose any medical disease or virus, they only identify people with an elevated temperature.

Thermal camera image detects elevated temperature

If this is something you are considering for a retail environment, you will need to think carefully about what action you will take if and when you identify someone with an elevated temperature.  At airports, for example, we understand that a number of measures will be taken – body searches, bag scans, etc – for our safety, but it’s difficult to know if the public will accept any of these aspects in a standard retail environment. This is the reality of the NEW NORM and may well be something the public will have to get used to if they want to enjoy reduced risk shopping in the future.

What is the new normal for retailers?

The truth is that nobody knows what the new normal will look like, but in the next few weeks, many retailers will be reopening their shops to a new reality, but it’s one that we all have to adapt to if the high street is to survive. 

The changes required to make our shops a safe place to be may not be the temporary measure that some people think.  With talk of second spikes of the virus, plus potential future pandemics, retailers must think ahead and put in systems, procedures, and technology that can be adapted to face future threats without having to start the whole process from scratch.  Borrowing from other sectors’ experiences may give retailers a jump start at least.

Watch our webinar replay about how to leverage security technology to reinforce COVID-19 workplace safety.