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COVID-19 has changed how people work, act, live, and interact. It’s changed how we shop, travel, and go on vacation, and likely forever. But, while many of us are already adapted to this “new normal”, many others are not.

Different areas have vastly different social distancing and safety measures in place, many people simply forget, and there are often too many people in any given location to allow for convenient social distancing.

Digital signage technology allows retailers, businesses, cities, and organizations to offer safer, more socially distant solutions so people can still go out, still purchase things, and receive the reminders and tools they need to stay safe.

Depending on your organization, you may want any of a variety of different types of technology. Digital signage can function as a reminder, can offer live data streams, and can connect to sensors and monitors to actively create alerts when people break the rules.

Kiosks and Self-Service

Touchscreens enable seamless self-service across industries ranging from retail shops to restaurants and quick service. Retail foot traffic during weekdays is up by as much as 65%, but shopping patterns have changed. Rather than going to browse, customers now go to pick up specific items, displaying a level of intentionality not seen in pre-COVID-19 shoppers.

Kiosks and self-service help shoppers and diners navigate this environment, quickly finding or ordering what they want, without engaging with or talking to a clerk or employee. This is also valid in restaurants and quick service, where table menu options allow customers to order food, minimizing contact with servers and staff.

There are some limitations to how touchscreens and kiosks can be implemented. For example, most organizations will find permanent installations to be too expensive in all but the busiest areas. And, most will still have to dedicate personnel to sanitizing touchscreens between visits. You should also offer customers the option to clean screens themselves before use.

Digital Ticketing and Queuing

The largest and most obvious benefit of digital kiosks for non-retail/food businesses is in digital ticketing and queuing. Rather than asking customers to wait, to queue outside, or allowing them to crowd into the shop, customers can be issued a digital queue. When combined with motion-sensors and an algorithm to calculate average length of stay, digital signage can automatically estimate wait lengths for stores and shops.

This technology is already popular in theme parks, and is relatively accessible for hair salons, barbers, nail salons, and other service-oriented businesses. If you have a waiting room and it’s typically full, implementing digital queues allows you to empty out the room, maintain better safety inside the building, and improve total customer service by reducing wait times.

How does it work? Customers approach a digital touchscreen and request a queue number. The machine gives them a number and offers a wait-time estimate. The customer can go do something else outside the building – such as going to another store – come back in the specified time, and take their place at the front of the queue. While this won’t ever be 100% perfect, good queueing algorithms can be very good.

Theme parks like Disney have been using this technology for years, with and without apps with live reminders and alerts. While most businesses can’t afford to build an app and there are few out-of-the-box solutions, simple queue estimates can be more than enough to reduce the volume of people waiting at the business.

Public Service Messages

The key to getting people to follow safety recommendations is to offer constant, consistent feedback with easy-to-understand messages and instructions. Digital signage offers dynamic displays with recurring messaging in different formats, automatic translation to multi-language, and multimedia.

Warehouses and work floors have used digital signage in this context for decades. Digital displays can be seen when noise is loud, can remind people to keep distance, to wear masks to wash hands, and offer directions to sanitation and hand-washing spaces.

Digital signage also supports videos for safety tips, giving visitors infotainment as a reminder of safety standards while they wait. Safety signage can, of course, be integrated into more value-added signage with ads, sponsor messages, and product placement, but this is completely optional.

Sensors and Scanners

Most digital signage software supports linking sensors and scanners to automatically link data to algorithms using context-based rules. For example, motion sensors can track the number of people entering and exiting a building, updating signage to either ask queues to wait or to allow new visitors to enter.

This technology has been in place in parking garages for over a decade and is easily adapted to meet the needs of malls, shopping centers, museums, and public buildings.

Other sensors include cameras, which can be programmed to track whether individuals are wearing masks to offer individual alerts. Companies like Nordstrom already use digital signage and camera sensors to track people based on color of garment, accessories, and gender to offer personalized greetings and updates.

This technology easily adapts to offering alerts to anyone not wearing a mask, to thanking people for wearing a mask, or to flagging security. Similarly, tools like PADS4 offer integration with heat mapping and thermal sensors, to automatically alert security if individuals in airports or other public spaces have a fever. This kind of technology should be used sparingly and only when high quality technology can be used (otherwise you broadcast false information), but it can be useful in encouraging others to keep distance, in ensuring the safety of staff, and in ensuring areas are properly sanitized if someone is high risk.

Digital signage technology ranges from simple display updates linking a computer to a TV screen or monitor to high-tech touchscreens with real-time tracking and live data based on sensors and monitors. What you implement is essentially up to budget.

While it’s not likely a good idea to invest in hugely expensive touchscreens for the sake of reducing a bit of traffic, a good digital signage installation can allow your business to maintain business without losing traffic (e.g., digital queuing rather than asking people to leave), can reduce the risk of fines (maintaining a live visitor count, etc.), and can improve the safety of staff and guests (reduced contact with digital menus and self-service, digital reminders, digital information, etc.).

No technology is a perfect solution, but signage fits into many different aspects of social distancing safety and chances are, it can help your business through the new normal.