It's raining innovative ways that startups and food retailers are keeping buyers and employees safe from COVID-19.
It is one of the essential purchasing sectors, which have remained open even during the worst pandemic periods. For this reason, shops and companies in the food sector have had to think innovatively about how to keep their customers and workers safe.
From robots that enforce social distancing to an app that gives stores an "activity score," here are seven innovations that respond to the pandemic. Many could become part of our daily lives.
The supermarket chain Aldi recently launched an 'automated traffic light system' in its UK stores. The purpose? Ensure that social distancing measures remain in place even after they are lifted.
Depending on the size and layout of the shop, each will have a maximum number of customers who are able to stay at a distance from each other (in the UK the minimum distance is 2 meters). The traffic light system follows the customers who enter and leave the shop: it not only regulates their flow, but also takes into account how many are present.
The light turns green only when there is enough space in the store for the next customer to enter safely.
2. The app that avoids overcrowding
The startup LineScouts has developed an app that alerts users of the congestion they may find in the store they intend to reach. LineScouts produces an aggregate "activity score". In-store queues are assigned a score that results in a color code: red for very busy, yellow for busy, green for light traffic, and purple if there is no data.
Users can help by reporting the conditions in the store they are in.
3. In-store social distancing devices
The technological society Indyme, based in San Diego, is making it easier to follow social distances in stores that sell essential items, such as those in the food sector (and pharmacies). SmartDome it is easy to install and can be adapted to checkouts, counters, entrances and other elements of a shop.
It is similar to a security camera - it observes customers and sends messages if they are breaking the rules. Things like "for your safety, please keep at least one meter social distance". If you are looking for other comparisons with Big Brother, think about him.
4. Restaurant booking platforms that extend to in-store purchases
The restaurant booking platform OpenTable has expanded its offer to allow users to book time slots in which to shop. Grocery stores and supermarkets can use the new app to limit waiting times and reduce the crowd waiting to enter the store.
Each reseller can adapt the platform to allow for a different number of reservation slots. For users, purchase times can be booked on OpenTable in the same way they can reserve a table in the restaurant.
You can go shopping, in essence, knowing that in that time slot the "booked" are sufficient in number to guarantee safety.
5. App to skip the line
In the early days of the New York pandemic, Fairway Markets accelerated the promotion of its app to skip the checkout: the company reported that it registered more than 1.000 new users per day and had to add more servers to process the extra orders.
Once the app is downloaded, users scan product barcodes with their smartphone. At the end of the purchases, users scan a special QR code that tells the app that they are ready to pay, with their smartphone, and then go out directly and without going to the cashier.
About one in twenty transactions are verified after checkout by a store employee to discourage theft. Fairway is rapidly training its employees to promote the app, enroll people in the store, and help shoppers use it.
6. A robot to raise awareness of hygiene in supermarkets
To ease the stress of its employees, the German supermarket chain Edeka introduced a robot called Pepper into its Ahrensburg branch. Pepper advises customers on coronavirus protection and prevention and helps regulate the payment process.
Developed by Entrance Robotics e also employed in some Japanese hotels, Pepper helps customers. First, it helps them understand behavioral recommendations and implement preventive measures, through intuitive and hassle-free conversations. The robot uses clear and unambiguous language, as the company designed it specifically for human communication. In the food sector, it may also be useful for "non-health" purposes, to guide products and routes of points of sale (especially in large-scale distribution) that are increasingly sprawling.
7. Chatbot that advises on the perfect time to buy
In an effort to provide a solution to long lines in stores, the supermarket chain Lidl has launched a WhatsApp chatbot in Ireland, with which customers can converse and find the most peaceful moments in their favorite stores.
Customers simply send the chatbot a message on WhatsApp indicating the time and day they intend to visit the store. Using real-time data and customer transaction numbers, the chatbot will respond with an automatic message that alerts the sender if the particular day and time is usually a quiet, medium-traffic, or not recommended time for shopping.
Among all these innovations (perhaps excluding the clumsy cameras) the constant in the food sector seems to be user oriented anyway. In redesigning the experience of use in shops, companies start again (and do well) from the needs of customers.
The "new normal" may, with a little luck, end up being more comfortable than the old one.
Gianluca Riccio, born in 1975, is the creative director of an advertising agency, copywriter and journalist. He is affiliated with Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists. Since 2006 he directs Futuroprossimo.it, the Italian resource of Futurology.
Futuroprossimo.it is an Italian resource of futurology opened since 2006: every day news about the near future. Scientific discoveries, medical research, prototypes, concepts and predictions about the future for free.
Gianluca Riccio, copywriter and journalist - Born in 1975, he is the creative director of an advertising agency, he is affiliated with the Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists.