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COVID-19 prompts retail innovation

Mounir Jamil

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Retail Innovations

The pandemic has had an extremely influential impact on the way we shop. With a period characterized by lockdown restrictions, mandatory quarantine, curfews, and the closure of many retail stores across the country, the retail industry was left hanging in the balance.

However, in these moments of adversity, retailers began shifting their attention to technology to alleviate some of the problems presented by COVID-19. 

Inside Telecom breaks down some of the most influential and powerful retail innovations that are being deployed today to take the online shopping experience to the next level. 

During the most stringent lockdown measures, the e-commerce scene witnessed an unprecedented boom with shoppers flocking to online stores and platforms to buy goods they could not purchase physically.

Even now, with most of these restrictions alleviated and the majority of brick-and-mortar retail stores having reopened, fears about contamination and infection still loom in peoples’ minds.

Shop owners are eager to gain their customers trust by implementing retail innovations to manage the current risks; customers are also keen on shopping again in an environment that is safe, confident, and hygienic. 

Scan, Pay & Go

Scan, Pay & Go is the name commonly given to technology that allows shoppers to use their smartphones to scan the goods they want to buy as they move around a store, usually via a dedicated app, before paying for them and leaving the store. No queueing or checkout required.

Interests have peaked regarding the Scan, Pay & Go technology a bit before the pandemic spread globally. Even a few supermarket chains have conducted trials for this technology. Now, however, interests have peaked, and the value of this solution has been demonstrated by the pandemic. 

The ability to reduce queues and improve flows around the physical store will directly correlate with fewer chances of shoppers coming in close contact and potentially spreading the virus. 

Smart digital signage 

Markings and stickers placed on the floors of retail stores are a common way to enforce social distancing guidelines and manage the flow of shoppers throughout the store. However, they are a fairly one-dimensional solution. 

Some retailers are now beginning to embrace a more high-tech solution to manage in-store footfall: digital signage.

Samsung Electronics UK has recently partnered up with Quividi, an audience and campaign intelligence platform specializing in digital signage. The goal of the partnership is to create the “next-generation” solution that will keep shoppers safe in-store while they are shopping. 

Samsung will be creating the digital signboard, powered by Quividi’s analytics solutions that work on optimizing in-store safety and security and ultimately help retailers better manage social distancing. 

By making the most out of data capturing devices, such as CCTVs, etc., this technology has the ability of tallying how many customers are in a given store and can also detect if they are wearing a mask or not

In addition to that (and here’s where it gets all 1984) this tech has the ability to utilize thermal scanning to help identify shoppers with a high temperature who might be unaware they have the virus.

The data is analyzed, and the system decides which messages are displayed on the signs via real time triggers and conditional scheduling. 

With privacy and security issues being a pressing concern for several users, retailers need to implement the digital signages in a strategic way to prevent customers from feeling uncomfortable. Retailers have the opportunity to gain valuable insights about foot traffic and customer flow through the data they collect and can in turn use this data to improve store layout and product placing. The signs also offer an additional revenue stream, by displaying adverts and promotional content along with informational messages.

Click-and-collect method 

The pandemic has matured the click-and-collect system, a typically overlooked means of obtaining online orders into a prominent method for reducing in-person contact and decreasing time spent getting online orders. 

The novel click-and-collect experience is currently being tested at several stores, with extensive data and customer feedback being observed to better understand demand. 

While the online boom brought by the pandemic might seem like good news for retailers and a valid opportunity for digital transformation, it has also impacted several retailers’ profit margins due to the increased cost of delivery and logistics. 

By offering click-and-collect, retailers can cut these costs without missing any benefits that online channels have to offer. 

QR codes make a comeback 

QR codes are currently going through a renaissance at the moment in certain sectors like healthcare and hospitality and are being redefined as an effective means of accessing information, tracking movements, and activating virtual experiences. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see QR codes as part of the latest retail innovations being deployed in stores and shops. 

QR codes are already well established in digitally advanced countries like China and serve as effective contactless payment method. This usage of QR codes is making its way to the west, where PayPal in the U.S has partnered with Venmo and are rolling out a QR code payment technology across all 8,200 CVS pharmacies all over the country. 

The QR codes will give CVS Pharmacy customers the option of paying for their purchases with stored debit or credit cards, bank accounts, their PayPal balance, PayPal Credit, Venmo balance or Venmo Rewards – as long as they have an account with PayPal or Venmo.

QR codes have also proved their value outside of facilitating payments by acting as a practical means to share business contact info. WhatsApp recently revealed a feature that allows WhatsApp business to create and share QR codes, that when scanned, will initiate a direct WhatsApp chat with the business in question. 

The current pandemic has set the stage for QR codes to take off as a flexible means of conducting transactions. With other advantages such as incorporating discount vouchers, loyalty programs and even virtual storefronts. 

While the current pandemic has brought forward numerous challenges for the retail sector, it has also inspired new retail innovations that can be used for enhanced, safer shopping experiences. 

Junior social media strategist with a degree in business. Passionate about technology, film, music and video games.

MedTech

Sleep therapy device raises over $315.38 in crowdfunding

Karim Husami

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A UK-designed sleep therapy solution with global ambitions raised over $314.21 in the first week of a Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign.

SleepCogni, a portable device with data support for people suffering from insomnia, has so far attracted funds from 157 different investors in this latest fundraiser that combines venture capital investments and crowdfunding.

The firm’s latest lenders include Chasnay ​​Capital Investments, a new private investment fund founded by three former senior executives from General Electric (GE) Healthcare.

Co-founded by Sheffield-based entrepreneur Richard Mills, who has personally suffered from sleeping disorders, and Dutch chronobiologist and sleep expert, Dr Maan van de Werken, said the device allows users to self-manage their insomnia, a condition which affects one in three people across the world.

“Our successful crowdfund campaign builds on the momentum of last month’s FDA registration and the completion of clinical trials where SleepCogni achieved extraordinary results reducing clinical insomnia in just seven days.”

Reinaldo Garcia from Chasnay Capital Investments added: “We’re excited by our investment into SleepCogni for many reasons: its patented technology and clinically validated solution addresses an unmet need in the global sleep aid market, and the company is backed by an excellent team. As experienced global senior leaders with a proven track record, we can add value in this next exciting stage of the business and help SleepCogni scale on a global level.”

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Pfizer vaccine efficacy falls to 84% after 6 months

Hala Turk

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Pfizer and BioNTech published on Wednesday new data indicating their COVID-19 vaccine efficacy decline from 96 percent to 84 percent over six months.

These numbers are regarded as a big motivator to the drug makers currently developing a third “booster shot” to target the Indian Delta variant. 

The released data shows that the antibody levels are much higher against the Alpha coronavirus variant and the South African Beta variant, after a third dose.

Based on the figures, the efficacy “declined gradually” as it dropped from 96 percent during the first week to around two months after receiving a second jab. The dose’s effectiveness then plummeted to 83.7 percent four to six months later with an average drop of 6 percent over the last two months.

The findings may be considered by U.S. health authorities in deciding when the pair’s booster shot might be needed.

The data, which involved tests of 23 people, was published by Pfizer and has not been peer reviewed by the scientific community.

The announcement of the data and was released on the day of the company’s earnings call.

During the call, Mikael Dolsten chief scientific officers described the new data on a third dose of vaccine “encouraging.”

“Receiving a third dose more than six months after vaccination, when protection may be beginning to wane, was estimated to potentially boost the neutralizing antibody titers in participants in this study to up to 100 times higher post-dose three compared to pre-dose three,” Dolsten said in a statement.

Despite Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s booster shot plans, both Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a joint statement highlighting that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this moment in time.

The statement noted that FDA, CDC, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are engaged in a science-based process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary.

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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Associated Press

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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened.

The more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Google’s Wednesday announcement was shortly followed by Facebook, which also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons.

In an email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18 instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1.

The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.

“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote.

And Pichai disclosed that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters and other U.S. offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.

“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”

Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.

Various government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated, but the corporate world so far has been taking a more measured approach, even though most lawyers believe the mandates are legal.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice.

“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.

Google’s vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulations of each location, Pichai wrote, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explained.

Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. President Joe Biden also is considering mandating all federal government workers be vaccinated.

The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

The vaccine requirement rolling out in California next month covers more than 240,000 government employees. The city and county of San Francisco is also requiring its roughly 35,000 workers to be vaccinated or risk disciplinary action after the Food and Drug Administration approves one of the vaccines now being distributed under an emergency order.

It’s unclear how many of Google’s workers still haven’t been vaccinated. In his email, Pichai described the vaccination rate at the company as high.

Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by another technology powerhouse, Apple, which recently moved its return-to-office plans from September to October, too.

The delays by Apple and Google could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.

Google’s vaccine requirement also could embolden other employers to issue similar mandates to guard against outbreaks and minimize the need to wear masks in the office.

While most companies are planning to bring back their workers at least a few days a week, others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.


SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP)

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