As the world of offline shopping slowly opens up to the public, technology is being put to use to ensure the safety of both buyers and sellers
By Shriya Roy
With malls, restaurants, shopping complexes and other public places starting to open up in India and around the world, safety measures both for buyers and sellers have become primary. Efforts are being made to ensure contactless, or minimum-contact, interaction. Although it looks extremely difficult, startups and tech companies have come to the forefront to aid this process.
Israeli scientists have developed a method to produce a tap water-based, pathogen-killing disinfectant, and have partnered with local industrial automation solutions company RD Pack to roll out a ‘sanitation tunnel’ that would allow for a safer entrance to public places. The tunnel incorporates the disinfectant solution and adds an extra layer of protection by spraying it on those seeking to enter a space, neutralising potential droplets on skin, clothing and other things such as handbags, the scientists say. The tunnel works with sensors to pick up when a person is passing through it.
While shops, gyms, markets and malls have been allowed to reopen under strict guidelines, these places have been asked to make sure that customers and employees wear masks and have their temperatures taken before entering. ‘Contactless’ has become the most important word in our dictionary today. And in shopping, too, contactless retailing is the way forward. Take, for instance, checkout-free retail. Customers walk into a store, take out their mobile phones, scan products on the shelves with a retailer’s mobile app, bag the products themselves and then pay electronically by scanning a QR code inside of the app as they exit. A few marketplaces in the US have already put this technology in use.
In India, the government has issued a series of guidelines for those deciding to head to malls and restaurants. While it strongly recommends takeaways in the case of restaurants and advises people to not head out unless absolutely necessary, but still if one has to, the guidelines ask one to follow multiple rules. Masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and sanitisers at the entrance, thermal screening is all mandatory. Even the number of people allowed inside a shop at a given time will be limited. Hourly screening of those working inside will be conducted as well.
Not just inside malls, companies are also working to ensure safety in parking lots, where a multitude of people can come in contact with each other. Delhi-based Park+, a smart parking startup, has introduced social distancing solutions for malls. The Park+ app will enable mall personnel to check-in and check-out customers while tracking and recording their temperatures to manage footfall and comply with government safety guidelines. Customers will be able to scan a unique QR code and register before entering a store, enabling real-time updates of the number of customers in every store.
With stores delineated as ‘red’ or ‘green’ based on customer count, customers will be able to book shopping slots and enjoy a safe shopping experience. Park+ also provides digital payment methods through which customers can enter their car number, link their wallet and pay anytime during their stay at the mall. Subsequently, customers will be able to validate their payment through the app for a smooth and hassle-free exit from the mall. In doing so, the company is ensuring a ticketless and contactless parking system to further intensify the focus on containing the spread of the virus.
“While malls have been permitted to reopen, we foresee a negative sentiment among previously regular mall-goers in the absence of safety assurance and fear of community spread. Park+ solutions for malls have been designed considering public health and convenience. The offerings do not entail app installation for customers, boosting the ease of adoption. It also does not include expensive hardware installation for malls, making for a simple solution that ensures business continuity in the era of social distancing. Furthermore, it allows customers to plan their shopping trips and avoid long queues outside stores and contact tracing in case of a positive Covid-19 case within the mall premises,” says Amit Lakhotia, founder and CEO, Park+.
While most malls have made the use of Aarogya Setu app mandatory for entry, others have a QR-based download system. Some have even developed their own apps like the DLF Malls Lookout App, which would help in following social distancing norms. VAMS Global, a leading provider of visitor management systems, is also providing retail solutions to ensure efficient, secure and quick visitor processing. VAMS Global produces ‘SafeGuard’, the world’s first visitor management system, to scan body temperature and check for mask compliance, thereby ensuring a ‘no touch, no queue’ check-in process.
Asimov Robotics, a startup based in Kerala, has deployed robots at entrances to office buildings and other public places to dispense hand sanitiser and deliver public health messages about the virus. Marut Dronetech has also partnered with state governments to test the use of drones to monitor adherence to social distancing rules. Drones are also being used to deliver supplies within the malls, as well as check people’s temperature using thermal imaging.
With all measures in place, it is also extremely important for retailers and customers alike to make the physical world they operate in safer. That is the only roadmap to the future.