- With many retailers now reopened to the public, some are taking extensive steps to protect both employees and shoppers, including installing new technologies designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
- Visiting a retail store may feel radically different from pre-pandemic times — with capacity restriction, hand sanitizer dispensers, and mask mandates — but in other ways, non-invasive, inconspicuous technologies are working behind the scenes to stop the spread.
- We took a closer look at the high-tech virus prevention systems — ranging from room density monitors to non-invasive body temperature scanning — popping up in retail spaces across the country.
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When Saks Fifth Avenue reopened in New York City last month, it featured several new safety and sanitary features, with one particularly notable addition — ultraviolet light handrail sanitizing.
The ultraviolet light emanating from the escalators of the sprawling department store is just one of a smattering of emerging technologies popping up in brick-and-mortar stores to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These virus prevention systems — ranging from room density monitors to non-invasive body temperature scanning — are evolving into a booming industry of their own.
For the average consumer walking into a retail store, many of these technologies aren’t immediately obvious to the naked eye, but rather inconspicuous additions. Here’s what you can expect to see — or rather, not see — on upcoming shopping trips.
Non-invasive crowd control and temperature screening
One such unobtrusive technology is Density, which monitors room occupancy with the help of sensors that measure the depth and body patterns of visitors walking through doors leading into a public space. According to Aleks Strub, chief marketing officer at Density, these sensors communicate with each other to provide a real-time analysis of shoppers and help employees prevent crowding to ensure social distancing is enforced.
Strub said the system does not use cameras and is “completely anonymous,” a draw for consumers that have grown especially concerned over issues involving face recognition technology. As far as types of retailers, Strub said the service has been especially popular in meatpacking facilities which emerged as early hot spots for the coronavirus earlier this year, as well as in warehouses and casinos.
Another key part of crowd control is scanning body temperature to check for fevers. While many retailers have started adopting policies of screening employees for elevated temperatures before sending them out on the floor, others have implemented thermal scanning technologies to pinpoint and mitigate potentially ill individuals in real-time.
Daniel Putterman — CEO of the Kogniz, a thermal security platform that uses AI to track fevers from a distance — said he believes technologies like his will become commonplace moving forward, in the same way increased security protocols implemented at airports after the September 11 attacks have persisted today.
“Why, in a year, would you dismantle your temperature screening? That would be sort of like saying, ‘Well, we haven’t had a terrorist attack for a while, so let’s get rid of all these TSA procedures because we’re fine now,'” he said. “We’re looking to put new technologies in offices and other environments that can be permanent and that can help us get back to a sense of being normal.”
Bringing medical-grade UV tools to retail
Some changes in retail, like ultraviolet light sanitizing systems, will be more interactive for shoppers and employees. Beyond the technology used to line the Saks Fifth Avenue railings, companies like Vioguard are selling systems that remove bacteria from items like cell phones, tablets, keyboards, and pens — all frequently used in retail spaces, either among shoppers browsing and making purchases, or employees running point of sales.
Mark Beeston, VP of sales and marketing at Vioguard, said the medical-grade technology has been used within hospital systems due to its capacity to “bombard pathogens, break down their DNA, and render them harmless.” Now it is evolving for use among retailers like jewelry stores, where people are regularly trying on products against their skin, allowing to cut down on time, resources, waste, and ultimately human error that can occur using manual sanitizing.
“These products are just easy to use — there’s no on-off switch, you just close the door, put your [cell phone or tablet] in, close the door, and it runs and kills pathogens,” he said. “There’s no heat, there’s no UV being exposed to people, so they don’t need specific protective equipment.”