Breakup In Aisle Three: Retail Tech Goes The Distance

Retail Tech Goes The Distance Amid COVID-19

That same voice calling for a cleanup in the produce aisle may also start telling people to break it up. With social distancing currently a top priority of retailers in the current environment, a supplier of shopper engagement and loss prevention technologies has flipped the script, now making devices that heighten real-time awareness of social distancing in retail stores.

“Visits to food, drug and DIY stores remain essential,” said Joe Budano, CEO of Indyme, whose company has just introduced the SmartDome system to inform shoppers about social distancing and enforce the inherent rules. “However, since each visit represents added risk to shoppers and staff alike, retailers have adopted increasingly rigorous measures to assure shoppers of their safety. Social distancing is a crucial element in this effort, though ensuring consistent compliance by hundreds of visitors a day is no small challenge.”

But it was a challenge Budano felt his company could address – and quickly. Indyme’s core business is the manufacture and distribution of sensors and hardware that alert more than 30,000 retailers to theft (actual and planned) while also enabling retailers to track general foot traffic within stores. Some of its products act like a “bird’s eye view” of the store for managers. For example, maybe there’s a backlog at a cashier that can be alleviated, someone is trying a bit too hard to get behind locked merchandise or there is a delivery at the back door. In these types of scenarios, Indyme’s sensors and cameras provide command, control and security to store personnel.

“We will take all these inputs and then deliver messages to people who have to respond and do something about it,” Budano noted. “We’re in that kind of instant awareness business, and it lends itself to both customer engagement applications and loss prevention. We can detect when thieves are stealing product off shelves and are also able to count how many items they’re taking.”

And when a customer asked if Indyme could help with shopping traffic patterns – specifically concerning social distancing – the basic technology was already there, and SmartDome was born.

SmartDome looks like a dome security camera that is typically seen in many stores, but it operates much differently. Upon detecting people in a pre-specified, monitored area and measuring the distance between them, it announces a message such as: “For your safety, please maintain at least six feet of social distance.”

Since the device is battery-operated, store staff can quickly self-install above areas where reminders are most needed, such as checkouts, service counters, entrances and busy departments. Once pandemic fears subside, SmartDome can be repurposed to help reduce theft and increase customer engagement.

Budano hopes the solution will contribute to efficient store operations long after social distancing is no longer necessary. He credits the retail customer who asked the question about social distancing for the invention of the SmartDome.

“Our relationship with retailers starts with something super simple, like securing locked merchandise, and then once they realize we can solve most any problem for them, they start to think about their own solutions,” he explained. “For example, think about the store associate who has to set up a display, set up merchandise in the back and move some other inventory up front. Then, with this crisis, they have a subset of tasks like customers coming in to pick up a ‘buy online pick up in store’ order, or somebody at the curbside waiting for their online order. That’s our domain. Retail is looking for a few more platforms that can do more for them.”

Indyme is not the only retail tech company that has been able to adapt to the crisis. Pathr is a startup that leverages machine learning (ML) and data analytics to gain knowledge of how consumers move through environments. Pre-crisis, it launched On the X, an AI-powered spatial intelligence platform that uses anonymous location data to gather real-time insights. It does this on a mobile platform that can guide staff to the optimal in-store location where they are most likely to close a sale.

Pathr also recently launched a new product called leverages Pathr’s spatial intelligence technology to generate information on how infectious diseases might spread in various scenarios. was born when Pathr’s team was locked down in the San Francisco Bay Area and started brainstorming ways their technology could help smooth over friction caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There’s a spatial component to disease outbreak in general, and we’ve been hearing a lot about that with this coronavirus, so that was the spark, just thinking about what we could do to help,” noted Pathr Founder and CEO George Shaw in MIT News.