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Retail Innovation

Technology and safety in retail: 3 smart moves as stores reopen

John Kavulich, VP, IoT Solution Sales, Acuity Brands Lighting, Inc., explains that while adaptive retailers' multi-faceted approach to managing during the coronavirus is on point, there are more measures retailers should consider as they adjust their operations in light of COVID-19.

Technology and safety in retail: 3 smart moves as stores reopenPhoto by

| by John Kavulich — Vice President, IoT Solution Sales, Acuity Brands

COVID-19 has changed the way retailers serve their customers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the world, retailers in their stores communicated frequently and extensively about new health and safety measures. During this time, executives have evaluated a myriad of proposals to understand which actions increase shopper confidence.

Examples such as contactless and curbside pickup worked well across the industry, therefore, we expect to see continued adoption of such consumer-friendly services as shelter-in-place orders rollback. Store managers and operations teams will likely retain many recently introduced safety protocols in order to bring shoppers back to physical locations, while assuring customers that their shopping spaces are safe.

A recent McKinsey survey found retail executives expect store traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels once stores open; however, we are still far from seeing the end of this public health crisis. Adaptive retailers are taking a multi-faceted approach to managing this waiting period. By balancing short-term strategies, such as reducing operating hours with a long-term emphasis on disinfection and ongoing safety procedures, retailers are focused on earning shopper trust and confidence today and building it in the future.

Yet there are more measures retailers should consider as they adjust their operations.

The role of the associate

The re-opening of stores challenges retail leaders to prioritize physical safety without compromising customer service. Associates' roles could change quickly as store managers assign high-priority tasks such as sanitizing carts and baskets and managing store density. While some staff welcome shoppers back, others will clean, and some will fulfill regular duties such as managing inventory and addressing guest inquiries. Witnessing store team members actively following safety protocol helps customers relax and enjoy their shopping experience.

Enabling customers to journey through the store independently provides a shift in associates' roles as well. Options such as 'check stores nearby' in e-commerce and in-store wayfinding reduce guest/associate interactions and support self-sufficient customer experiences. Shoppers can more readily find desired items and maintain physical distancing while associates have more time for sanitizing store fixtures or replenishing inventory.

Traffic control

Prior to COVID-19, retail executives invested in Indoor Positioning System technology to better understand how store layout impacts the customer journey and improving associate efficiency. The goal of collecting and analyzing IPS data is to create the most efficient, frictionless journey for customers to find exactly what they need and maybe a few inspirational items enroute to the register.

In today's world, retailers do not want lines of disgruntled customers waiting to checkout or pick up an order, generating potential for social distance congestion within the aisles. Not only does this create a potentially unsafe situation, it can make a store more difficult to navigate. And while stores can use the same IPS technology they have used for store optimization to monitor traffic patterns, the solutions they're implementing will look vastly different from the past. A seasonal layout that did well last year for sales and customer journey could today create highly overcrowded, unsafe conditions where physical distancing between customers is not possible.

In the new normal, retailers will be challenged to find a balance between their use of IPS technology, both before and after COVID-19. Store layouts can still be adjusted to optimize the customer experience, but going forward, the priority will be ensuring store design considers physical distancing needs too. Monitoring overcrowded, under-utilized pathways and bottlenecks at certain aisles or displays, enables retailers to thoughtfully adjust store layout consistent with shoppers' preferred movement through the store without compromising safety. Investing in technology at scale to implement BOPIS, curbside delivery, or digital queuing to further reduce instore crowding and create a shopping customer experience is a part of a retailer's digital transformation and a good approach.

The quality of the customer experience will shape how retail emerges from COVID-19. Adaptive retailers will redefine associates' roles, wisely manage foot-traffic patterns, invest in technology and automate time consuming tasks. Each of these actions moves stores forward without compromising employee safety or the shopper's experience.

John Kavulich is VP, IoT Solution Sales, Acuity Brands Lighting, Inc.

John Kavulich

Retail Innovation


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