Innovative ways startups and grocery retailers are keeping shoppers and employees safe in the wake of COVID-19.
As one of the essential shopping sectors required to remain open — even during the worst periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery shops and chains have had to think innovatively about how to keep their customers and staff members safe. From the handling of food to the immense crowds caused by panic-buying, grocery shopping has been deemed rife with the potential for the virus to spread.
From a social-distance-enforcing robot to an app which gives shops a “busyness score”, here are seven innovations responding to the pandemic, many of which could become part of the new norm of our weekly grocery shop.
1. SUPERMARKET INSTALLS TRAFFIC LIGHT SYSTEM FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING
Supermarket chain Aldi recently launched an “automated traffic light system” across its UK stores to ensure that social distancing measures keep in place once the lockdown is lifted. It is set up at the entrance of the store, working in tandem with the outdoor queuing system.
Depending on the size and layout of the store, each one will have a specific number of customers it can allow in at a time to enable a two-metre distance. The traffic light system will track customers going in and out of the store. The light will show red and only turn green when there is enough space in the store for the next customer to safely enter.
2. APP HELPS PEOPLE AVOID OVER-CROWDED SUPERMARKETS
The startup LineScouts has developed an app that notifies users of the congestion they can expect at their local store. LineScouts produces an aggregate “busyness score” based on data from Google and crowd-sourced reports. The queues are then given a traffic-light rating – red for very busy, yellow for busy, green for light traffic and purple if there is no data. Users can help by reporting on the conditions at their local store.
3. IN-STORE DEVICE ENSURES SOCIAL-DISTANCING
The San Diego-based tech company Indyme, who specialise in shopper engagement and loss prevention, are making social distancing easier to follow inside shops selling essential items, such as groceries and pharmacies.
The SmartDome is easy to install and able to be adapted for checkouts, counters, entrances and busy parts of the shop. It is similar to a security camera, and it watches customers and sends out messages if they are disobeying the rules of social-distancing, such as “for your safety, please maintain at least six feet of social distance”.
4. RESTAURANT RESERVATION PLATFORM PIVOTS TO GROCERY SHOPPING
The restaurant reservation platform, OpenTable, has expanded its offering to let users reserve timeslots for grocery shopping. Grocery stores and supermarkets can use the new app to limit the waiting times and reduce crowds waiting to enter the store. Each retailer can adapt the platform to allow different numbers of reservation slots. For users, shopping times can be reserved on OpenTable in the same way that they can reserve a restaurant table.
5. SKIP-CHECKOUT APP AIDING SHOPPERS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
In the early days of the pandemic in New York, Fairway Markets ramped up the promotion of its skip-checkout app. The company reported signing up more than 1,000 new users a day and had to add additional servers to help process the extra orders.
After shoppers download the app, they use their phones to scan product bar codes. When they have finished with their shopping, users scan a special QR code that tells the app they are ready to pay. Around one in twenty transactions is audited after checkout by a store employee, to deter theft. In addition to adding additional capacity, Fairway is also rapidly training its employees to promote the app, to sign people up in-store, and to help shoppers with using it.
6. A ROBOT DEPLOYED TO COMBAT SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS IN SUPERMARKETS
To relieve strain on its employees, the German supermarket chain Edeka introduced a robot named Pepper to its Ahrensburg branch. Pepper is there to provide advice to customers on the protection and prevention of the coronavirus and helps to regulate the checkout process.
Developed by Entrance Robotics, Pepper helps customers to understand behavioural recommendations and implement preventative measures, through intuitive and unproblematic conversations. The robot uses clear, unambiguous language, as the company has designed it specifically for human communication.
7. WHATSAPP CHATBOT HELPS CUSTOMERS FIND THE PERFECT TIME TO SHOP
In an attempt to provide a solution for snaking shop queues, supermarket chain Lidl launched a WhatsApp chatbot in Ireland, with which customers can converse, and find the quietest times at their local stores.
Customers simply have to send the chatbot a message on WhatsApp stating the time and day they intend to visit the store. Using real-time data and customer transaction numbers, the chatbot will respond with an automated message notifying the sender if the particular day and time is usually a quiet, average or busy time to shop. The chatbot can also give information on store opening hours.
Written By: Holly Hamilton
6th August 2020