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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. 

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MedTech

Google CEO pledges $150 million in COVID-19 Fight

Mounir Jamil

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced early last week on Twitter that the U.S.-based tech mammoth Google will be “providing more than $150 million to promote vaccine education and equitable distribution and making it easier to find locally relevant information.”

Pichai also added that Google spaces were to serve as vaccination sites.

The search engine exec poured out a detailed blog post in which he highlighted one of Google’s fundamental roles throughout the pandemic – providing trusted information to all matters COVID related and how Google will be making a difference.

Of the $150 million, two-thirds will be allocated in add grants to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and non-profits around the globe. While the other $50 million will be channeled into partnerships with public health agencies that work with underserved communities.

When the pandemic first broke out, Google rolled up their sleeves and began crafting pandemic tech solutions; starting with the $170 million Grow with Google Small Business Fund where more than $53 million have been granted to help struggling and underserved small businesses owned by women or minorities.

Add to that the all the efforts that the Google CEO and his fleet are doing when it comes to helping people make informed and safer decisions.

By taking a micro-solution approach, they added COVID-19 Layer – a feature that reveals critical information of a specific area and how it is trending. And for the macro-solution; COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports – a nifty report created with aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users that have enabled the location history that displays the change in visits to places such as grocery stores and parks.

Tech rivals Apple also collaborated with Google on the Exposure Notification technology, an API that can enable apps created by public health agencies to work seamlessly between iPhone and Android ecosystems.

The news comes following rival tech giant’s move in working with the U.S. on dispatching vaccine treatments; this should come as no surprise as the Google CEO and other tech leaders have a tremendous responsibility to bear when it comes to treating the pandemic with technology.

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MedTech

Yelp users can now review COVID-19 safety measures for establishments

Adnan Kayyali

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review COVID-19 safety measures

Crowd-source business review platform, Yelp, has added a new feature that allows users the ability to review COVID-19 safety measures for various establishments.

The addition of this new feature reflects the company’s attempt at adapting to current health circumstances as well as acknowledging people’s highest concern in terms of visiting eateries and establishments.

Initially, Yelp had aimed at becoming the go-to restaurant advertising hub in the U.S., but later failed to hit the mark in terms of profitability, which has pushed it to transform over the years to diversify its features and offers.

Similar to how users recommend places as “good for groups,” “romantic,” or “good for kids,” users will soon be able to review COVID-19 safety measures with options such as “heated outdoor seating,” “1:1 session available,” and “disposable or contactless menu.”

Currently, the only option to share feedback regarding social distancing measures and mask wearing.

Yelp’s business model consisted of monetizing the business of restaurant recommendations, as it sought to become the make or breaker of a restaurant’s reputation, and for a while, it was just that.

However, competitors would use Yelp’s large customers base to sabotage their opponents with fake reviews, and in turn, flood their own review pages with unearned positive feedback.

Yelp responded to this with a software that detects fake or malicious comments and reviews and deletes them as many social platforms do with their comments.

According to Yelp, the platform enacts a filtering software that worms out fake or targeted reviews, based on reliability, user activity, and the overall quality of the review as a whole.

No rants or raves allowed, and if the user has recently installed Yelp and has very few active reviews, it could be flagged. clarify

It is worth mentioning that the problem of fake reviews could become even more dangerous with the addition of their new “review COVID-19 safety measures” feature, since customers are becoming increasingly cautious, especially during outings.

Similarly, precautions have been taken to assure that no establishment’s reputation is destroyed by a bad health and safety review.

These include:

  • The review is restricted to one branch of the franchise
  • Only users with a verified Yelp account may leave a review
  • Feedback is displayed on the app based on recent activity (within the previous 28 days)

With the world still gripped by the pandemic, people keenly search for safer places while avoiding high risk and density locations. This kind of review system seems like the logical next step during the pandemic, as technology aims to answer those very same questions.

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MedTech

UK Hospitals Explore Blockchain Tech Remedies

Mounir Jamil

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UK Hospitals Explore Blockchain Tech Remedies

With tech putting its best foot forward when it comes to battling the pandemic, the fight for widespread vaccination is another battlefront that has also commenced and is in it’s prime right now.

For the battle of widespread immunizations, U.K. National Health Services (NHS) have taped blockchain tech as part of their arsenal against COVID-19. The NHS will be using the same underlying system for cryptocurrencies like the infamous Bitcoin and popular Ether in monitoring supply and cold storage of two hospitals in the UK.

Out of the three vaccines in circulation right now, the one that is codeveloped by U.S pharma-mammoth Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech has some serious storage issues.

It must be stored at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) – certainly not your typical winter temperature, these temperatures are below freezing.

Once the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is out of its storage unit and begins to thaw, it is only effective for another five days at 2-8 degrees Celsius.

All these factors render as major issues that blockchain tech manages to successfully address. And it is no surprise to see another use of blockchain in the health tech segment.

The two hospitals, in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick in central England have teamed up with Hedera Hashgraph which bring their blockchain networks to the table. Noteworthy to mention is the powerful companies that back Hedera, amongst which are: Boeing, IBM, LG, and Google.

The other partner is asset-monitoring company Everyware that will provide the software needed to constantly track the vaccine’s temperature around the clock.

The solution is powered by Hedera’s blockchain system and Everyware’s sensors while the NHS deploys a distributed ledger to better accurately track the cold-storage equipment that holds the vaccines.

Distributed ledgers act as decentralized and synchronized digital systems for sharing data, and are popular for their large immunity to problems that may be introduced by human error.

This tech jargon further illustrates how the intricacies of blockchain technology can be hard to grasp even for tech enthusiasts, but the growing practicality and prevalence of this technology is plain to see.

With sources indicating that worldwide spending on blockchain solutions projected to grow to an estimated $15.9 billion by 2023 we are bound to see a plethora of new technologies and developments that will certainly allow for a more connected and smarter tomorrow.

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