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How Retail and Entertainment Businesses Can Go Back to Normal with IoT

By Special Guest
Elena Yakimova, Head of Testing Department at a1qa
October 27, 2020

Live entertainment suffered the most considerable blow from the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing lockdown. From cinema theaters to nightclubs, almost all venues shut their doors, leaving media streaming services and YouTube to entertain millions of people. Brick-and-mortar retail was also hit hard when customers predominantly shifted to Amazon and other ecommerce alternatives.

Retailers and entertainment venue owners have been in the wait-and-see mode for half a year, yet today, they are more than eager to get back on track when the pandemic subdued.   

Although worlds apart, these two sectors have one thing in common. Before the pandemic, they catered for a steadily large customer flow, so a ‘return to normal’ will prove commercially feasible only when there is a comparative volume of customers to serve.

However, apart from reigniting customers’ interest and meeting their increased expectations, retail and live entertainment establishments must follow stringent health-and-safety regulations before they can open their doors. The compliance will be no easy feat for recovering businesses unless the right support technology is implemented.

In recent years, the internet of things has been amply adopted by retailers large and small; in the entertainment sphere, IoT has been duly recognized but not yet become widespread. Now, as both spheres aim to emerge from the lockdown unscathed and stronger than before, the technology can become particularly mission-critical.

Let’s see how IoT can help entertainment and retail companies to adjust to the conditions of the post-pandemic world and ensure a safe environment for both employees and clients.

Enforcing physical distancing

As soon as COVID-19 was discovered to transmit between close contacts, most countries imposed robust physical distancing guidelines. Although the danger is not as imminent at the moment, the rules still apply, critical for preventing the second wave of the infection. Ensuring that each person has from one to two meters of space for themselves is a challenge, but it looks close to impossible for small shops and concert halls, where space is limited, or visitors’ behavior is more erratic.

IoT can help businesses maintain social distancing without putting extra strain on the staff. A system of activity sensors will monitor customers’ movements around the premises and issue a warning when an area gets overcrowded. Keeping a precise track of the patrons, the solution can also detect whether the shop or venue floor occupancy threatens to exceed safety standards and prompt employees to take appropriate measures.

Further on, the owners can analyze the captured attendance, footfall and movement data and optimize business operations and workforce arrangements to prevent overcrowding and queueing. 

This spring, such a system was successfully adopted at Kroger grocery shops across the Mid-South. The QueVision IoT technology monitors the number of customers in a facility, and as soon as it exceeds the safety limit, the green checkmark on the manager’s display turns yellow. This signals the staff to close one of the store’s doors and funnel in the shoppers at a slower rate.  

Creating a safe working environment

During a normal workday, retail and entertainment staff interact with numerous strangers, coworkers, objects, and surfaces. This way, a single infected employee can pose a threat to every person entering the premises even with all the necessary safety guidelines in place.

Unfortunately, early COVID-19 symptoms are subtle or often non-existent, which makes your commonplace no-touch thermometer insufficient to accurately identify disease carriers. Thus, retail and live entertainment business owners should rely on sophisticated technologies to nip the virus spread in the bud at their facilities.  

Over the last months, smart wearables have been instrumental in infection detection. Such symptoms as changes in heart rate and breathing rhythm are unperceivable for an otherwise healthy person, but the highly sensitive devices can pick up these signs of infection. To determine the level of accuracy, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine studied historical smartwatch data of 5,000 volunteers, 31 of which tested positive for COVID-19. It was found that in 80% of cases, the devices identified the early symptoms correctly.    

This makes connected wearables a helpful solution for ensuring workplace safety. Employees can wear smart fitness trackers during their work shifts and have their health metrics transmitted to the AI-powered software, which can accurately discern the novel coronavirus symptoms from harmless deviations in metrics.

Beyond that, such devices can closely track workers’ movements and interactions, and in case one tests positive for COVID-19, the data will allow determining the person’s close contacts. However, due to the sensitive nature of location and personal health data, an employer should first and foremost obtain the staff’s consent to capture it and ensure compliance with their regional data privacy regulations.

Even though the capacity of wearables to pick up COVID-19 signs has been substantiated only recently, companies across industries already expressed interest in adopting the technology. For now, consumer electronics vendors are perfecting their symptom detection algorithms by putting them through IoT testing, and soon the technology can take its rightful place among other tools supporting physical venue reopening.

Making payments smoother and safer

Before the pandemic, the key advantage of contactless payments was convenience, which made it just another way to level up customer experience. But today, when queues at cash registers and ticket offices are high-risk areas for both visitors and employees and payment kiosks are the breeding grounds for COVID-19, the IoT technology becomes the best way for promoting hygiene during in-person payments.

To pivot to no-touch payments, business owners need to replace the card payment terminals with NFC-enabled ones. The Near-Field Communication protocol facilitates interactions between the card and the reader over a small distance, eliminating the possibility of passing the virus from one contaminated card to hundreds of others.

Beyond cards, contactless payments can be carried out via smart devices, from mobile phones to fitness trackers to key fobs, making the process as simple as extending a hand. As a result, the queue can move way faster, minimizing customers’ potential exposure to the virus.         

At the height of the pandemic, contactless payment adoption accelerated around the globe, with the US reporting the highest increase of 19% compared to the pre-COVID times, according to a recent Dynata research. Most importantly, the customer sentiment towards it altered dramatically within this short span, making it the most preferred payment method even for the tech-wary baby-boomers in all the surveyed countries. This way, contactless payment has all the makings to dominate the ‘new normal’ economy, which adds to the reasons to adopt it sooner than later.

To sum up

As of today, the pandemic has seemingly subsided, and live entertainment and brick-and-mortar retail are eager to take this moment to resume normal operations and try to rekindle the lost clientele’s interest.

However, the current situation is not in their favor. The chances of the second COVID-19 wave are high, which keeps most people wary, while customers have duly appreciated the online alternatives to malls and farmer’s markets, concerts, and cinema theaters.

Under these circumstances, adopting IoT for retail and live entertainment is not a fashion statement but a viable strategy to revitalize businesses, gain new competitive advantages, and ensure a high level of safety for staff and customers. 

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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