David Needham of Axis Communications discusses the role of network audio technology in modern retail, and the benefits to staff and customers of accurate occupancy management.
The retail industry is beginning to re-open its collective doors as we emerge from COVID-19 lockdown. It has been a time of great anxiety, with many retail businesses struggling even before the pandemic. Every minute of retail downtime has represented a loss of revenue, and after many weeks of closure businesses are now urgently looking for ways to generate maximum ROI. As pressure mounts and businesses prepare to begin trading again, the retail industry must be able to demonstrate that it can adhere to the stringent guidelines laid down by government.
Among the many measures set out by the UK Prime Minister recently to protect retail staff and customers, stores will be under increased pressure to enforce two metre customer distancing; the required safe zone to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection. This will involve closely managing store occupancy levels, the setting of appropriate maximum limits according to the size of premises and recording how many customers are inside at any one time. With much to think about, retailers might look to technology to assist in capturing this information and providing additional solutions to enable them to provide a high level of service while keeping customers safe.
Public address systems to help safer social distancing
The use of IP (digital) speakers, when combined with existing in-store surveillance cameras, can provide a comprehensive and easy-fit solution. Public announcement capabilities keep customers informed of social distancing protocols with pre-recorded or real-time messaging that can also issue alerts in the event of customers failing to comply with regulations. For those with visual impairment, or where English is not a first language, IP audio can also be helpful as part of a wider range of measures to improve situational awareness, thereby improving customer confidence and safety.
Queuing outside can be a source of anxiety. Speakers placed here can be used to inform customers of what to expect when inside the store, such as any requirement to wear protective masks, recommendations to disinfect trolley handles, and the importance of regular hand washing with soap or hand sanitizer. With such a system in place to aid customer understanding and encourage appropriate behaviours, staff and management are able to focus their attention on operational duties. This is particularly important in the current climate where there are very small margins for communication error and high costs to deliver it manually.
Managing occupancy for a smarter operation
Surveillance cameras and sensors, combined with analytics, at entrance and exit points can be used to capture the number of customers in store at any one time. The retailer sets an occupancy threshold which is relevant to the size and layout of their stores and allows enough space for customers to maintain distancing. The process monitors everyone arriving and leaving to ensure that the optimum figure remains consistent. Data about occupancy can be collated from store to store and used to evidence due diligence in relation to social distancing regulations being followed and take undue pressure off the store management team.
Network audio speakers, capable of broadcasting to single or multiple zones, can also then be added to a system as part of a broader process designed to detect when grouping occurs or potential ‘bottle necks’ in real time; a consistent pre-recorded message to remind customers of their duty to remain distant from each other can then be played. The same solution could also alert the team to open additional check outs to ease congestion and also provide daily customer flow data to aid decision making about resource allocation. A continued use case after this crisis passes and further ROI.
IP audio and the future of retail
Shopping centres and high street stores still sit at the heart of every community. Enabling these businesses to open is a critical step on the road to rebuilding the economy and will support millions of jobs. But current concerns about a second wave of COVID-19, and heightened awareness of close customer contact, means that retailers will need to employ distancing methodology to continue trading for some considerable time in a combined effort to keep the R below 1 and thereby help to avoid a second lockdown.
The use of technology to deliver information and alerts about customer and staff distancing behaviour and IP audio to deliver consistent messaging will release staff to more customer facing roles. Through technology, retail can rebuild from a strong foundation and become more efficient. With cloud-enabled systems in place, including the latest IP audio solutions, it’s possible to help the retail industry continue to improve operations and innovate for a smarter, safer world.
Learn more about network audio solutions from Axis Communications
David Needham – UK & Ireland Sales Manager, Axis Communications
David has over 20 years’ experience in the security industry working for global companies operating in the network video, fibre optic and access control markets. With a background in electronics and electrical installation David has a broad range of experience in both the UK, Ireland and overseas markets. As UK & Ireland Sales Manager David is responsible for directing, developing and supporting the sales team in this region.
About Axis Communications
Axis enables a smarter and safer world by creating network solutions that provide insights for improving security and new ways of doing business. As the industry leader in network video, Axis offers products and services for video surveillance and analytics, access control, and audio systems. Axis has more than 3,000 dedicated employees in over 50 countries and collaborates with partners worldwide to deliver customer solutions. Founded in 1984, Axis is a Sweden-based company listed on the NASDAQ Stockholm under the ticker AXIS. For more information about Axis, please visit our website www.axis.com