OPINIONStores

How Thermal Sensing Will Play a Central Role in the Retail Reset

Increased safety, reduced liability key to post-COVID retail stores
Photograph courtesy of MetroClick/faytech

Traditional brick-and-mortar retail locations are constantly remodeled and retooled to reflect changes in demographics, as well as consumers’ tastes and standards. Throw in the frequent introduction of new technologies, and whether it’s grocery, apparel, club warehouses, c-store, high-end luxury, casual dining or big-box mass merchandiser, the result is a retail environment that has always been in a continuous state of reinvention.

Even given this state of nearly perpetual change, things have shifted dramatically now. As the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the anticipated resumption of in-store physical retailing can be better described as a complete reset, rather than a resumption or restart. A restart implies that the pandemic was a pause and that things will once again return to normal. Survival now rests on reducing liability and increasing safety as much as increasing profitable sales. When it comes to the matter of in-store layout, the “retail reset” entails a huge shift in priorities, away from merchandising and oriented toward safety.

The essential retailers that did not shutdown had no other option but to learn on the fly how to manage risks during the pandemic. One of the most significant safety protocols that emerged is health screening for employees and customers. Specifically, in terms of practical application, this means temperature checks to detect signs of fever using an oral thermometer on every employee and customer who enters the premises is, of course, completely infeasible. The solution is screening devices that use thermal sensors that detect infrared light that can tell the user where different temperatures exist on a given surface, in this case, the skin of the person being screened. The FDA says that infrared thermometers and cameras can accurately detect fevers within 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Further, until March, checking temperatures in the workplace was curtailed by various rules for regulating healthcare-related activities in non-medical facilities. The FDA treated thermal sensors for temperature screening as medical devices and required approval before clearing these devices to go to market; however, they have loosened these regulations to speed the mass deployment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fever is a signature symptom of COVID-19. At its most basic level, temperature checkpoints using thermal sensors are key measure for preventing retail employees from spreading the coronavirus. Anyone entering a building or premises must pass before a thermal sensor. The mass approach would involve a device equipped with an infrared thermometer that takes temperature readings from a single spot on a person’s skin, typically the forehead, from 6 inches away. A more through process would deploy an array of thermal cameras/sensors that produce color-coded images of a person’s “heat signature” showing the temperature and fluctuations of everything in view. The person being screened stands several feet away. A third option would involve a temperature screening combined with biometric identity verification.

As every business owner knows, reduction of risk to shoppers is a crucial aspect of the retail industry, both for purposes of limiting their exposure to litigation and to create a positive customer experience. While no thermal sensing screening technology is 100% accurate 100% of the time, the devices represent a very visible and prominently displayed safety measure. Employees and customers will build confidence once they encounter this visual evidence that their safety is taken seriously.

Thermal sensing proactively prevents coronavirus transmission, because employees who may be experiencing some symptoms (but believe they can’t afford to miss work) or customers who feel feverish (but dismiss the notion that they may be infected with coronavirus) will forego any plans to enter the premise because they know they will be screened and turned away.

In addition to preventing potential transmission of coronavirus, a thermal sensor device can be deployed in combination with a digital message screen to provide businesses with a convenient and efficient method for engaging customers with real-time info about queue waiting times and building occupancy, as well as marketing messages.

Brick-and-mortar locations, whether they are retail stores, restaurants, office buildings, hotels, stadiums or government facilities, need to ensure all employees and visitors that steps are being taken to keep them as safe as possible. As a direct result of the pandemic, thermal sensors, especially when combined with proper communications and best practices for hygiene have become a critical component to that process.

Jesse Cooper is CEO and Taylor Miller is COO of MetroClick/faytech NA, which helps companies in a wide range of industries digitally tell their customers unique stories to create engagement and boost brand impact.

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