We’re all blobs: Woolworths trials new tech for COVID-safe Christmas rush

While a hearty Christmas lunch is usually enough to turn anyone into a pudding-filled blob, shoppers at could soon claim that title officially thanks to new technology being trialled by the supermarket giant.

The grocery chain is in the midst of gearing up for a COVID-conscious Christmas, and as part of its plans, is rolling out a new automated system for tracking customer numbers in-store.

Three-dimensional cameras will be placed at the entrance and exit of stores to track shoppers coming and going. But instead of a standard video stream, the cameras will convert humans into 'blurred spherical shapes' – also known as 'blobs'. Their mission: Prevent having too many blobs in the store to maintain social distancing.

Woolworths is trialing new 3D cameras which view customers as blobs.Credit:Janie Barrett

Despite its enigmatic, and rotund, associations, the term 'blob' is a technical one used in databases when referring to 'binary large objects'. Woolworths' has partnered with global digital merchandising company Stratacache and analytics firm Walkbase to implement the technology.

Individuals will not be able to be identified in the images captured by the cameras and the footage will only be stored locally for a short period of time, moves intended to allay any privacy concerns from customers.

Both Woolworths and Coles came under fire earlier this year after confirming they trialling cameras at self-serve checkouts as a security measure to reduce theft.

As we head into the busy Christmas season, we’ll be trialling new technology at our store entry points to keep track of customer numbers.

A spokesman for the supermarket chain confirmed the new 3D camera tech would be trialled at select stores in Melbourne over the coming weeks, with a plan to roll it out across the country if the trials proved successful.

"We’ve been doing manual store counts to regulate the number of customers in our stores for many months now. As we head into the busy Christmas season, we’ll be trialling new technology at our store entry points to keep track of customer numbers," the spokesman said.

"If the number of customers hits the store’s limit, our team will be notified in an app and implement queuing, just as they do with manual counts now."

The new tech will complement the company's Q-Tracker tool, which it rolled out earlier this year, that allows shoppers to monitor how busy a store is and even book ahead in time to go shopping.

Bunnings is also rolling out a number of measures to prepare for silly season.Credit:Eddie Jim

Woolworths is not the only retailer gearing up for the in-store Christmas rush, with hardware seller Bunnings also preparing for a socially-distanced shopping period.

Employees will count the number of shoppers via an app, and Bunnings' support office will remotely monitor customer numbers and alert stores if density peaks.

Chief operating officer Deb Poole said the retailer expects contactless pickup options such as click and collect to be popular at Christmas.

"Lots of our customers were introduced to these contactless services during restrictions and we expect them to be popular during the peak festive shopping period," she said.

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