Smart tags and physical distancing in retailing chains

In brief
The adoption of smart tags could in part respond to the issue of social distancing in the retail world, especially in food stores.

Smart tags have already been widely adopted by large-scale distribution networks for several years, bringing clear benefits to the retail industry. It is an ideal communication solution from a smart retail operations viewpoint, aimed at optimizing, speeding up and making more efficient all store activities.

Smart tags are a great automation feature with considerable potential as, for instance:

  • Identifying the position of an item in the store;
  • Specifying the number of items available in stock;
  • Providing a description of the product;
  • Guiding the internal operating processes, from product facings to the synchronization of promotional communications.


Each smart tag has a unique identifying code, linked to a specific product on the shelf. The system reads and recognizes this ID code, and by interfacing with the store management system, transmits in real time all the right information to the tag – from the price to current promotions, reordering, stock breakages, traceability and allergens.

At the same time, each tag promptly communicates its status to the system, so that prices and information displayed are punctually updated and available. Smart tags are managed remotely, without the need for the operator to manually intervene in any way. The Purchasing Department (or sometimes the store manager) can decide to apply price changes, discounts and promotions directly from the back office to the entire chain, synchronizing the information from a single remote control room.


The implementation of phase two and especially phase three of the Covid-19 response will require significant operational changes to today’s patterns of work within the retail world, and even though the current state of social distancing will be eased, it will become the norm. This will mean that also supplies and shelf’s operations must adapt to the timing and operational methods.

The different supplies will have to be mostly delivered with the store closed, and this also applies to shelf’s operations, such as price changes, additions to the items on the shelves and changes in the displays (following item listing/delisting), inventory of counter stocks and related product facings. The massive adoption of smart tags could in part respond to the issue of social distancing in the retail environment, as it would no longer be necessary to have staff dedicated to managing the shelves, but only their supply, which could easily take place with the store closed. 


The adoption of smart tags would enable companies to keep track of the relevant KPIs for each shelf while ensuring the safety of their employees who, suitably equipped with the necessary PPE (e.g. gloves and face masks), would be able to work on the shelves without customer contact. Clearly, it would be necessary to provide within the stores structured and protected touch points in the fresh food departments and customer reception areas, so as to maintain the relationship with the customer and make him feel pampered even in a difficult time such as this.

In implementing the legislative requirements regarding the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is possible to hope for the start of an automation process within the retail world, which also includes an important asset such as smart tags. In order to manage the stores in a homogeneous, reactive and productive way and create the safety conditions for maintaining social distancing within them, the introduction of smart tags involves the strengthening of safe touch points that play an important role in the customer experience.