The last year has been far from normal. Across the globe, lawmakers are implementing countless public health and safety measures in an effort to keep economies open while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. As we try to return to “business as usual,” what we consider “usual” must continue to evolve. Nowhere will this be more apparent than in the physical retail landscape.

According to a new study by Zebra Technologies, nearly two-thirds (67%) of retail shoppers are concerned with surface sanitation or social exposure in stores. To better accommodate customers, retailers must deploy technologies that aid in compliance with social distancing measures, mask mandates, and sanitation practices. Through the use of security solutions, like hands-free two-way audio, video surveillance, access control, and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven analytics, business owners can better protect employees and customers.


Aiding Public Health and Safety Initiatives

For physical retailers, traditional security technologies can be used to more easily comply with public health and safety initiatives. As many business owners already employ some form of video surveillance and access control, the addition of two-way audio devices and AI-enabled analytics software is a simple way to retrofit an existing solution to meet this new challenge.

By setting parameters within a video analytic, store owners can autonomously monitor both social distancing and mask-wearing within their facility. As some municipalities limit store occupancy, people counting analytics automate the process which means a worker will no longer have to stand outside counting those who enter and exit one-by-one. If the store reaches its (reduced) capacity, the surveillance system will signal the access control system to shut the doors while two-way audio devices voice-direct those at the entrance to wait momentarily, until they are safely able to enter the store.

With the use of facial recognition, video surveillance cameras can identify those who try to enter the premises without masks. When the surveillance system is paired with access control and two-way audio devices, those without masks will be barred entrance and reminded of the store’s mask policy via a pre-recorded audio message.

Similarly, setting a minimum distance threshold within the video analytic software helps to automate social distancing compliance for retailers. If a shopper is too close to an employee, or another shopper, a pre-recorded audio message is played to remind customers to maintain a safe distance while shopping. All of these best practices help to alleviate some of shoppers’ biggest health concerns while visiting brick-and-mortar retail locations.


The Added Benefits of Audio Devices

Aside from public health and safety concerns, audio security devices are multi-faceted and can provide business owners with a host of benefits. With shrinking margins and ever-increasing competition from online retailers, it is vital for store owners to invest in loss prevention technologies to protect their assets, reduce shoplifting, and combat employee theft. When combined with video surveillance, audio can greatly assist in loss prevention efforts, allowing security personnel to monitor all activity within a store. In the event of a crime or customer dispute, audio recordings can add important context and crucial evidence that video surveillance alone cannot provide.

Audio devices can similarly be used to help stores improve their day-to-day operations, refine customer service, and better train employees. Deploying audio throughout a store, from entrances to point-of-sale terminals, allows business owners to monitor interactions between customers and employees. By monitoring these conversations, managers can more easily evaluate an employee’s performance and identify those who may need additional training.



To gain a more complete understanding of how these technologies can work together, visualize a retail store walkthrough where security solutions can be implemented:

  • Entrance:  Mask-wearing and physical distancing have shown to be a cornerstone of control for any airborne virus, COVID-19 included. Surveillance cameras integrated with AI and two-way audio monitor all points of entry counting those who enter and scanning for mask compliance. If the store is at capacity, a message is played via the two-way audio system to voice-direct customers to form a line while they wait.
  • Aisles: Once inside the store, it is important that customers and employees avoid close physical contact to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Surveillance cameras throughout the store with pre-configured AI-enabled analytics measure the physical distance between shoppers. If that distance becomes less than the pre-set value an alert is triggered, and two-way audio devices play a pre-recorded message reminding customers to keep a safe distance. In an effort to minimize traffic buildups, some retailers have created set “paths” that guide customers through each aisle. If traffic in one section of the store becomes too heavy, another pre-recorded message is played to alert customers to wait prior to moving ahead.  
  • Checkout: As shoppers conclude their shopping, the same surveillance cameras with edge AI observe checkout lines to measure the physical distance between customers to ensure protocols are being followed. This system similarly protects cashiers, baggers, and other employees by helping to limit their daily exposure.

During these changing times, protecting the health and safety of retail employees and customers through compliance with local public health guidelines should be a top priority for organizations. Specialized security solutions can provide brick-and-mortar retailers with ways to combat these new challenges.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.