As the world effectively shut down in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers were not the only businesses impacted. Solutions providers who partner with retailers have had to pivot their businesses to support their customers in different ways as well as change their way of doing business in a world of travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. We asked the magazine’s Vendor Advisory Board members to offer their insights into how they navigated this unprecedented time and how they view changes that will be necessary going forward. Here are some comments from ADT Commercial, Appriss Retail, Axis Communications, CAP Index, CONTROLTEK, Protos Security, Siffron, and ThinkLP.
Vice President, National Account Strategy, ADT Commercial
As organizations have had to continuously shift to navigate the COVID-19 public health crisis over these past few months, it’s become increasingly apparent that we’ll begin witnessing quite a few substantial operational shifts across industries as we try to gauge what a post-pandemic world might look like. For the retail sector, this impact has been immediate. And in some cases, especially for any location that’s been deemed essential, including supermarkets, pharmacies, and others, the impact has been ongoing. These businesses have had to evolve daily with the movement of the COVID-19 crisis and the directives administered by federal and state governments and public health officials.
As we tentatively look toward the future and more “nonessential” businesses begin to open their doors again, there are a number of technological solutions we’re certain to see gain momentum throughout the marketplace. Solutions that may not have been top priorities for retail outlets and distribution centers in the past, such as thermal imaging, EST systems, and people counting, may quickly rise to the top of the list as locations grapple with new state and federal mandates on occupancy thresholds and continued social distancing recommendations.
Thermal imaging solutions and infrared cameras—more aptly called elevated skin temperature (EST) systems since they can only detect possible elevated skin surface temperature—have predictably continued to generate heightened interest in the industry over the last several months. However, immense care and caution should be exhibited for any facility considering implementing these measures as part of their overall security program. While they are being more frequently assessed in retail distribution and warehouse applications as a means to signal a leading indicator of an employee’s, delivery person’s, or service person’s elevated skin temperature upon entering the facility, it’s important to note that elevated skin surface temperature on its own is not indicative of illness, and that COVID-19-positive individuals may be asymptomatic and still be contagious. Prior to implementation, it is critical for businesses to evaluate whether an EST system has undergone the FDA clearance process and be prepared to follow the FDA’s adjunctive use requirements, which include using the system alongside a primary means of confirming a fever, such as a medical thermometer. Businesses should also seek appropriate input from their legal teams to develop protocols following the confirmation of a fever and ensure its collection of skin temperature and fever data complies with all applicable laws concerning privacy and confidential health information.
Paired with video analytics, we’ve also seen thermal cameras more traditionally used for “heatmapping” in stores, to show where on the floorplan customers are spending most of their time and to visualize their natural route through the location. What was once used as the basis for promotional placement and strategically stocking endcaps can now be leveraged as a way to alert businesses to areas where, even at a reduced occupancy, a queue is likely to form or customers will tend to congregate without observing social distancing guidelines. In a post-pandemic landscape, awareness to these areas will be crucial in keeping both employees and customers safe and healthy.
Given the variety of directives ordered by various state and local governments surrounding occupancy levels in businesses as we emerge post-pandemic, people-counting technologies are starting to see a boost in popularity for retailers looking to respond effectively. Once primarily sold as a marketing tool to evaluate turnover rates and to gauge correlations between traffic and sales, people-counting technologies are soon to be deployed as an environmental, health, and safety (EHS) measure—ensuring stores don’t exceed mandated occupancy thresholds and to help control queue areas in locations.
As we adapt to the “new normal” of the retail space post-pandemic, we’re going to witness an impact at every turn. Customers’ needs will change, and operations protocols will have to be significantly adjusted. Through it all, we’ll have to reexamine existing technologies for new applications and innovate rapidly to ensure we keep all parties—from employees to patrons—safe and healthy.
President, Appriss Retail
Appriss Retail is a business unit within Appriss, an international company with a global clientele. When the COVID-19 crisis began, employee safety was our first responsibility. We already had infrastructure in place to support remote work and collaboration, so we transitioned quickly to a 100 percent remote workforce with no drop off in our ability to serve and support all our clients.
Secondly, geography played a role in how our clients and their consumers were affected and how we responded. We were challenged to provide services to a variety of retailers facing unique situations. Countries and regions placed different demands on their “essential” and “nonessential” retailers, and we reacted to support our clients in their various, uncertain stages of open, partially open, closed but operating, and furloughed situations. Since our client services team is experienced in many disciplines, they became the clients’ sounding boards, offering suggestions and support well beyond the scope of our current engagements. Our engineering team stepped in and modified solutions rapidly to meet new needs. One client asked us to adjust their checkout process to reduce consumers’ touch interaction with fuel pumps. It took a few days, but we deployed it from half a world away.
Third, the crisis did not reduce innovation—in fact, it accelerated it. Omni-channel commerce is one example. While most of our solutions operate in-store, they already support e-commerce as well. We have helped retailers adjust to new environments of fraud prevention and real-time inventory. Additionally, the increase in unemployment caused by this pandemic is expected to result in increased retail risks, like fraud, loss, and merchandise returns. Our solutions are flexible and stand ready to help our clients adapt to and change approaches to return policies and other risk areas as stores reopen.
Like our clients, we are also looking ahead. Our expanded data analytics help retailers make sales secure and returns streamlined in all channels. We are also finding ways for retailers to recapture disrupted consumer loyalty and increase incremental sales to achieve liquidity objectives.
Lastly, Appriss Retail is proud to be part of the strength of Appriss. Our finances and market mix will help us outlast this pandemic, providing the capability to help our clients now with the flexibility to address their needs into the future.
Segment Development Manager, Retail, Axis Communications
Most of our workforce is working remotely; however, we are equipped and ready to support our network of distributors, partners, and end users. The team has pivoted to using video conference calls, relying on software such as Microsoft Teams and Webex to stay connected. We have enhanced our communications by holding weekly operations calls as well as daily digital trainings.
Our distributors and partner networks are supporting end users by providing curbside pickups, remote call center customer service, and video calls in place of in-person trainings. Additionally, those partners or distributers with warehouses have been alternating shifts to be compliant with physical distancing and safety regulations.
Fortunately, we have been seeing the market lean toward more integrated systems, and we plan to continue in that direction. Today, our focus is on providing solutions for the current unique challenges including physical distancing. We prefer the term physical distancing because the context is more suitable for what we have been asked to do. You know that this community is social! Our technologies can be used to assist with tasks like queue-line management, occupancy estimation, cross line detection, audio announcements, and curbside pickup, to name a few, simply by working to integrate the existing technologies where possible and adding minimally when necessary. The key for us is to listen to our customers and be there for them as opposed to being opportunistic.
Being flexible with our day-to-day schedule has helped improve our internal operations as we do our best to continue with business as usual. We recognize the value of engaging with our customers and have established an open-door policy so that if anyone were to need anything, or even to speak to a friendly voice or bounce ideas off of us, we’re here. We have also developed a forum, like the Axis Retail Leadership Forum, where our end customers can share ideas and best practices amongst one another.
One of our core values here at Axis is to “Act as One,” and we practice this every day. We’re all in this together. That goes for everyone in retail and beyond, and we must all pitch in if we have the means to do so. Axis employees have been encouraged to utilize their civic responsibility and to reach out to the communities around us. One example is that we are organizing meal deliveries to security staff and other behind-the-scenes ancillary services at the frontline throughout the country. Another is that some of our headquarter employees in Lund, Sweden, have been 3D printing protective visor parts for hospital employees at a nearby hospital.
We are also holding Webex calls with our integrator partners about virtual patient observation solutions, analytics, and audio solutions to improve patient care, and using video as eyes and ears to support clinical staff. It has allowed more patients to be observed remotely and efficiently and reduces the stress on medical professionals, especially when staff is reduced because of infection.
We wish our crystal ball wasn’t still in the shop, so we could tell you what the future holds. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we need to be prepared. Having tabletop discussions about the current state of your process, systems, and team is a great place to start, especially your team as they are the most important asset. Additionally, beginning to develop a plan for ramp up and reopening in this rapidly changing landscape is something we need to address week to week. We can do this by looking at our available technologies and how they can be utilized for the future. Do we have the tech foundation that can support us? Is it scalable, or will it be flexible in six months, one year, or five years?
Stephen B. Longo
Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, CAP Index
The COVID-19 crisis has had a tremendous impact on business operations across every industry. Regardless of its end date, the pandemic is likely to alter the social environment in which we live and work for the foreseeable future and beyond. At CAP Index, we are watching closely how these dramatic changes are affecting crime and loss patterns at customer locations. As the leaders in crime risk forecasting, we have added new tools to our core product offering to help our customers manage loss and risk in this challenging environment. These new tools ensure our customers have the right data and information to accurately assess crime risk for their short- and long-term needs.
We have just released our 2020 update to the CAP Index Scoring System. As a part of that effort, we added new mapping layers and COVID-19 data within our CRIMECAST platform. These features help our customers visualize how COVID-19 cases and rates interrelate with crime and loss risks at their various locations. Additionally, our COVID-19 Situation Summary enables customers to view COVID-19 information at the county and state levels, as well as a directory of contact information for nearby support services such as pharmacies, fire stations, and emergency medical service locations.
During the pandemic, many businesses have also had to change the way they serve their customers. For some, this means an increased reliance upon delivery operations and in-home service calls. Some have had to build these operations from the ground up. These changes have created significant new challenges in terms of the safety of delivery personnel and in-home technicians, as well as the security of products in transit. CAP Index has been working with customers to develop new risk-sensitive delivery and service protocols to help them address these concerns.
CAP Index always strives to meet the needs of our customers. At this challenging time, we want to be the Dr. Fauci of risk assessment, providing steady, reliable products and services for data-driven security decisions.
At the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, like most companies we approached it as we had approached past crises. Our preparedness and remote capabilities allowed us to provide uninterrupted, reliable, and responsive customer support. Our long-term relationships and constant communication with our supply chain partners allowed us to avoid disruptions. And our distribution centers, which are considered essential services, ensured employees followed safe and healthy measures while staying fully operational to deliver for our customers.
We quickly discovered this pandemic was unlike any other crisis any of us had experienced, and there was no playbook to navigate the unprecedented challenges. We stuck with the basics and focused on our core values. In everything we do at CONTROLTEK, we provide solutions that protect. We are the people that deliver, and our focus and commitment is devoted to our customers.
We kept business as usual delivering loss prevention solutions for our retail partners while also evaluating whether our customers needed different solutions to “protect” in this moment. The impact of this crisis increased the concern of protecting the health and safety of people, and we began to hear from our customers the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hand sanitizer, masks, face shields, countertop shields, and gloves. We have provided essential security and operational supplies to our retail, banking, and logistics customers for many years. We were able to leverage our diverse supply chain to secure the vital PPE our customers were looking for from trusted sources. These relationships allowed us to also manage the costs as best we could with the current demand and deliver it very quickly for our customers.
We are extremely grateful for the partnerships that we have throughout the retail industry, and it has never been more important to us to provide our partners the support and solutions you need. We look forward to continuing to support those on frontlines in any way we can. As we begin to experience the new normal, we are here to collaborate and will continue to work diligently to offer resources, tools, and solutions to best support the retail industry.
Vice President, Client Relations, Protos Security
Protos has always had disaster recovery planning in place and the ability to have our operations continue without disruption, even when facilities or dispatch centers are unavailable. However, COVID-19 has presented an ongoing work-from-home scenario for which we had not originally planned. Fortunately, being a forward-thinking and moving company, we’ve been able to easily shift our software and systems to a cloud-based business model, which has allowed Protos employees to respond quickly while working from home. In addition, the use of various web tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom has facilitated with relative ease the internal and external communication necessary to continue as if we were in person at the office.
These are unprecedented times for our nation. These are uncertain times where our security officers are being asked to be deterrents against not only visible subjects but also now an invisible subject. Officers are now expected not only to carry on with their usual security responsibilities, but also to incorporate the needs of providing health safety. We have communicated to our strategic partners the importance of following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control for COVID-19. Cleaning carts, enforcing social distancing, and monitoring temperature checks are a few things we have had to incorporate into our services in recent weeks.
We are holding more meetings in general. We do not have the luxury of conversing with each other while passing in the hallway or the ability to stop by someone’s cubical to have a quick chat. Discussions and group think-tank situations need to be better planned in scheduled meetings. In addition, the use of tools similar to Teams, where all your coworkers are listed and just a click away, helps to keep the conversations easy and enables spontaneous conversations. Teams also makes file sharing easy and organized.
Internally, we regularly check in on our employees and seek to meet any of the needs that might arise with them personally.
We believe the current new normal of social distancing, wearing masks in public areas, and thermal checks of employees and customers will evolve into a more normalized and planned ongoing effort for many after the doors of our clients are reopened. We understand that some areas hard hit by the virus will be more restrictive or have prolonged policies in place. The Northeastern US and California will see more severe new norms of protection, while the efforts will be less severe in more rural states such as Wyoming, West Virginia, and Montana. While the efforts to adjust to the new normal may be different by location, the overall awareness of COVID-19 and its effects will be felt for generations. We believe this awareness will help us to be better prepared for the next major health crisis, should there be one.
Director of Marketing and Communications, Siffron
As the needs of retail have changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so our business has changed to meet those new needs. While many of our current solutions are still needed, new demands have arisen. These demands revolve around health and safety products, cleaning supplies and solutions, and increased review of loss prevention products for anticipated increased needs as stores look to reopen.
We’ve added products to address health and safety concerns, like sneeze guards, face shields, no-touch thermometers, social distancing floor graphics, and more. We have also focused on our existing solutions that include antimicrobial properties or our easy-to-clean displays and fixtures.
Our manufacturing facilities have remained open and operational, but we have increased the safety component for our employees, providing face masks, social distancing markings for areas of break rooms, temperature taking on entrance to the building, and more. All office workers are doing remote work from their homes.
We see a heightened awareness around cleanliness and safety, and new protocols and procedures put into place that will be long lasting. With the high level of unemployment and people who are struggling in our communities, we also see the potential for a spike in retail theft. We believe that we are uniquely positioned to supply retailers with the solutions they need to face these challenges and equip them as more stores start to reopen.
Vice President, Strategy, ThinkLP
In retail, we have a saying: “Strategy over Stress.” This is the business approach that we have been taking to address the current situation. We also have another saying: “Crisis Creates Opportunity.” This double-edged approach not only has us focusing on how to help our current clients pivot and adapt during these difficult times but also has allowed us to capitalize on product and development activities.
“Strategy over Stress” has also been our approach for our employees and their well-being. When you have employees switching from working in a close-knit, collaborative office environment to everyone working individually from home, this can be a real challenge. However, as a leading-edge technology company, we are uniquely positioned to pivot quickly and adapt to the situation at hand. Early on, we set clear expectations and developed regular daily and weekly touch points between managers and their teams, as well as our leadership group, to ensure efficient and effective communications across the organization.
We send out regular encouraging company communications to all our employees in an effort to keep bodies and minds sharp and have even instituted several virtual company events—water cooler chats, lunch and learns, product development idea sharing, and the occasional frosty Friday!
The main goal in all of this was to focus our efforts on ensuring we continue to provide excellent service to our clients to help them manage the crisis as best they can, explore additional product development ideas, and keep our employees safe.
This crisis, while truly immense in nature, is nonetheless a crisis. And all of us who have been in retail for many years are no strangers to adversity. From terrorism threats, dangerous crimes, severe weather events, a pandemic, or a major economic fallout, we are resilient!
I am truly proud of the men and women who have and currently work beside me in this industry. They are and have been my close friends for many years. So I am doing what I always do—picking up the phone daily and calling my friends and colleagues in the industry to check on them. I am sending encouraging notes through LinkedIn to let people know they are appreciated. Most of all, I just want to make sure they are okay and offer any help that may be needed.
Nurturing my relationships and sharing my knowledge or guidance is the best way I know to lead by example every day and help someone who may need it. At the end of the day, I just want to pay forward all the wonderful things people have done for me over the years and try to make someone else’s day just a little better than before we spoke.