After months of having storefronts shuttered, retailers across the country will spend the coming weeks reopening their spaces for the return of business. But as they do, they need to ensure they’re providing safe environments for employees and customers alike — a feat that’s easier said than done due to the coronavirus contagion.
From warehouses to brick-and-mortar setups, retailers must reconsider their operational models to enable proper social distancing and sanitation, while still prioritizing customer experience.
Internet of things (IoT) devices can support retailers as they navigate these changed circumstances. When deployed across retail operations, such devices can mitigate the amount of manual intervention needed to maintain product integrity and service shoppers. Here are some of the ways the IoT can help retailers adjust to a new world of business, and adhere to critical safety standards.
Remote Warehouse Management
To ensure the security and integrity of retail inventory, warehouses require regular monitoring, an activity that historically has been completed manually by facility employees. This process has entailed physically checking and adjusting room or container conditions, such as humidity or positioning, to accommodate product sensitivities.
Under new social distancing and sanitation guidelines, retailers need to find ways to limit unnecessary foot traffic that can contribute to the spread of disease, while still protecting their products. IoT sensors attached to containers can support warehouse management in these efforts, by collecting and transmitting data on inventory conditions to remote retail staff. With this technology, warehouse managers can monitor the temperature and pressure of containers from a distance, thereby keeping human contact, and the spread of germs, to a minimum.
Additionally, IoT sensors can help to remotely monitor inventory levels through automated reporting, to ensure that warehouses have enough product to meet changes in customer demand. The sensors can also report location and motion, to prevent theft or tampering of goods.
Store Capacity Monitoring
As part of their plans for reopening brick-and-mortar operations, retailers also need to consider how they’re going to facilitate a safe environment that supports social distancing for employees and customers. With new safety guidelines suggesting that stores limit the number of shoppers allowed inside to 50% or less of their typical occupancy, one such consideration is how retailers will monitor shop capacity.
Posting store “bouncers” at entrance and exit points to count shoppers as they come through is one option, but this method is prone to human error and may jeopardize employee and shopper safety. Instead, retailers can place IoT sensors on shelves or grocery carts to automatically, continuously and accurately count the number of shoppers in store, so they can more reliably adhere to safety regulations.
Despite retailers’ best efforts to foster safe storefronts, some customers might still be hesitant to return to public spaces the moment that stay-at-home advisories lift, preferring instead to continue shopping online. To that end, it’s equally important for retailers to ensure an optimal e-commerce experience, with packages delivered in a safe and timely manner.
To meet these expectations, retailers can attach IoT-enabled devices to shipping containers to secure up-to-date insights into package whereabouts. Data collected by these devices can also help to immediately identify delays caused by warehouse complications or heavy traffic, so that retailers they can quickly reevaluate and optimize shipping routes that will further enhance customer experiences moving forward.
In addition to location, IoT devices can monitor shipping container conditions, such as temperature, humidity, shock and tilt, so that retailers can be confident that their products are being properly cared for across the supply chain. This level of control is especially important for providers of perishable items such as groceries and medicine, for which fluctuations in conditions can not only damage the goods but also pose health risks to receiving customers.
As retailers navigate their reopenings in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, IoT technologies can provide the insights needed to effectively execute adjusted operations. To sustain these devices — especially if warehouses and stores are widespread, or retailers are shipping to great distances — retailers need to have a simple, low-cost network that enables reliable global connectivity. This way, all operations are on the same network with the same devices, allowing retailers to manage their supply chains with ease so that they can focus on more pressing issues, such as providing safe shopping experiences for customers and employees alike. By optimizing the supply chain with IoT devices, retailers can mitigate safety risks while still fulfilling customer product and service demands to satisfaction.
Ajay Rane is vice president of global development at Sigfox.