Store Overcrowding: A Thing of the Past with RFID Monitoring

Some retailers depend on human resources to achieve social distancing and prevent overcrowding, but RFID can automate many of these tasks.
Published: May 4, 2021

Ed. Note: This post originally appeared at the blog of  RFID Journal LIVE!, the world’s largest conference and exhibition focused on RFID and related technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic put brick-and-mortar retailers under tremendous pressure to keep consumers safe while also maintaining daily operations. Initially, guidelines included curbside pickups or drive-through services.

Although normal  crowd control practices still apply, as retailers start reopening, they have to enforce new safety guidelines that include practicing social distancing and limiting maximum store occupancy. Governments and local authorities implemented many new guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus, adding another burden on store owners and managers.

So, retailers had to adapt, and many discovered that RFID monitoring eliminates overcrowding. While some businesses depend on their human resources to achieve  social distancing and prevent overcrowding, RFID can automate many of these tasks.

How RFID Monitoring Eliminates Overcrowding in Stores
Medical health professionals recommended that to reduce the risk of infection, people should keep a minimum distance of six to nine feet (one to two meters) between customers at all times. Depending on the store’s size and layout, this may amount to just a few people inside or potentially dozens at larger retailers.

As each location is responsible for enforcing the new guidelines, queues outside quickly started to look like the lines outside concerts or crowded bars. Anyone who’s ever had to manage the logistics for ensuring the safety of any large crowd knows it can be a logistical nightmare.

Using Human Resources to Manage In-Store Occupancy
In the beginning, simple analog solutions such as a gatekeeper with a counter were used to maintain maximum capacity. For smaller stores, a single person could manage the flow of people entering and exiting. At larger locations with multiple access points, it became a bit more complex.

At these retail stores, several gatekeepers would need to work together, synchronize their counts, and allow entry while maintaining crowd compliance. The longer the queues, the tougher the job was as customers started to get impatient. It required real-time communications, multiple monitoring stations, demarcations, and supervisors to coordinate everyone’s activities. Such a labor-intensive quick fix would not be sustainable for long, which prompted technology firms and retailers to look for a better solution.

How RFID Automation Came to the Rescue
Already used for automating other processes in retail settings like inventory replenishment and stock placement, RFID emerged as an adaptable, flexible, and highly customizable option. Within a few weeks, the Australian company TAGNology devised an  RFID-based traffic control system for retailers to manage capacity.

The system, called Crowdly, has a dispenser that issues customers waiting in line with an RFID-enabled tag that sticks to their clothes. By placing a gate at the entrance, Crowdly keeps track of each person who enters and exits the store. Once it reaches capacity, a traffic light indicates red for the next person to wait. After someone leaves, the light turns green and the person next in line can enter. The company was able to set up the entire system (with an Out-of-the-Box plug and play installation) in just a couple of weeks.

How RFID Monitoring Technology Works
By tracking each tag separately, the RFID scanner keeps a count of everyone in the store and limits entry based on the maximum allowed capacity for that facility. In the case of Crowdly, every customer with an RFID tag that passes through the scanner equals an additional count. The frequency of entry and exit has no impact on the total count, with very little additional logic required. Other systems use complex algorithms to optimize the entry and exit process.

Basic System Architecture for an RFID Overcrowding Monitoring Solution
Typically, the system starts by registering the unique identity of the RFID tag. After calculating the total number of customers in the location, it can decide whether more people can enter or not. How the system evaluates whether to allow or deny entry depends on the store’s layout and amount of entrances. A system administrator sets the logic for the evaluation step. Once configured, the system automatically manages all other functions.

Benefits of Using RFID for Crowd Monitoring
While a basic system may work for many stores, in some cases, you may want to ensure customers maintain social distancing or help with contact tracing. A Real-Time Localization System (RTLS) can help owners place strategic scanners at different locations in the store. This way, it’s possible to track every person’s movement during their visit. With automated RFID monitoring and RTLS, businesses can make sure they do everything possible to keep customers and staff safe while complying with all local guidelines.

Find out more about preventing store overcrowding at  RFID Journal LIVE! 2021. New applications for RFID technologies enable businesses to overcome challenges with daily operations. Since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted regular in-person shopping, RFID is now assisting retailers with reducing the burden on staff by making it easier to comply with ever-shifting guidelines. If you want to find out more about other innovations in RFID monitoring and crowd control systems, join us at LIVE!. RFID crowd management systems can support offices, food stores, and other live events. RFID Journal LIVE! is a yearly event that brings together industry professionals, the latest innovators, and technology experts to collaborate, share lessons, and network the next big disruption. To see the latest RFID crowd monitoring systems in action,  join us this year at RFID Journal LIVE!