Should Apple and other stores require shopper temperature checks?

Photo: @jinnaritt via Twenty20
May 26, 2020

A number of retailers have begun checking the temperatures of employees before shifts. Apple last week, however, became the first major retailer to require customers to have their temperature checked before entry.

Requiring customer checks is still rare but is being considered by retailers and food establishments as a safety step as the country reopens. Stores are using a non-contact forehead thermometer similar to testing that has been adopted in some Asian countries.

Checking employees’ temperatures has become more common but is not standard practice. Walmart, Amazon and Kroger check employees at the start of each shift. Starbucks’ stores have been equipped with thermometers so employees can monitor themselves and Home Depot is providing staffers thermometers to take their temperatures at home before reporting to work. In most cases, any employee with a temperature over 100 degrees is sent home.

Fever is one of the key symptoms of the novel coronavirus, but temperature screening is not always reliable. Many infected individuals are asymptomatic and in some cases a fever never develops. Higher than normal body temperatures can also occur in those not sick.

Public health experts have said, while enhanced testing is positive, the use of thermometer guns or thermal cameras can give a false sense of security so that people do not feel the need to wear masks or practice other social-distancing measures. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a report warning that screenings could pave the way for new permanent forms of surveillance and social control.

A regional German data protection office has already launched a probe into whether customer temperature checks at Apple Stores “violates EU privacy rules.” Temperature checks would also come at a time when requests to wear masks have led to altercations over personal freedoms in the U.S.

Canada’s T&T Supermarket grocery store chain in April started voluntary customer checks. CEO Tina Lee said in an email to the Toronto Star, “Anyone with a fever will be kindly asked to rest at home and contact their health-care provider.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers perform temperature checks on associates and customers before they enter stores? Does the testing of customers pose any more or less of a challenge versus employees?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Too bad we don't have an instant test. That would be a better call, but we don't."
"From all the due diligence I’ve been steeped in around this topic, the key takeaway is trust."
"I would suggest stores work to ensure 100% compliance with existing guidelines on masks, cleanliness and social distancing rather than adding temperature checks for customers."

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45 Comments on "Should Apple and other stores require shopper temperature checks?"

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Ken Morris

I believe this precaution is a must to protect customers. It is non-invasive and keeps us all safe or as safe as we can be since we can’t test customers before they enter the store. How can anyone really be against this? Why would I want to go to what would be a place as infectious as a doctor’s office to shop? This should be standard operating procedure for the next few months if retailers can actually find those fancy thermometers.

2 years 6 months ago

Sorry to say this just isn’t practical in all cases.

As has been pointed out here, some folks have elevated temperatures due to other health reasons. As we get into summer, again people will have elevated temperatures. If I have a fever and want to get inside somewhere I am sure I can take a few slugs of an ice water and run in and get the temperature scan to go through while I am still being “cooled” by the ice water.

And what about folks who legitimately need to go to a store who have a fever? Specifically a pharmacy to get medicine. Oh, yes, use a drive through. Well, the majority of pharmacies do not have a drive through. Many consumers in large cities don’t have a car. Have a friend go? What if you live alone and friends are unavailable?

You would hope people will just do the right thing and not go out unless absolutely necessary when sick. But there are times when even sick people have to go out.

Mark Ryski

Elevated temperature is just one potential symptom of COVID-19, but it’s not the only one and it’s not a fool-proof indicator. People have temperatures for many reasons. Retailers need to do everything they can to ensure the safety of staff and shoppers. Screening for elevated temperature is a reasonable way to screen employees who may be sick and help ensure that the work environment is safe. Despite the privacy issues, health and safety should prevail.

Screening customers for elevated body temperature is more problematic. Not every customer is going to want to have their temperature taken on the basis of consent and privacy. Furthermore, managing these customer interactions will be delicate – some customers will react negatively to being prevented from entering the store. But while dealing with customers is more delicate, it’s still the obligation of the retailer to ensure that they have a safe shopping environment, and requiring temperature checks before entering the store is their prerogative. If customers don’t appreciate it, the choice is theirs to shop elsewhere.

Lee Kent

I see no harm in taking temperatures, however I am one of those people who has elevated temperatures frequently. I have a problem with iron and it results in elevated temperatures. Am I going to be denied shopping? During the current times, I suppose I could just turn my head and go home but eventually it would start to make me mad. This is going to take some thinking for my 2 cents.

Dick Seesel

Temperature checks would be an ideal protocol, but this assumes that retailers can manage the process if they have a steady influx of customers. (I don’t see how a heavily trafficked grocer or a store like Costco can manage it.) Since many “carriers” are asymptomatic, that temperature check may not tell retailers what they need to know. I applaud Apple for trying to make it work.

Clearly the priority needs to be insuring that everybody walking into a store or other establishment wears a mask. I know this is politically unpopular in some quarters, but masking both customers and store associates (and maintaining social distancing) continues to be the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 without forcing all of us back into quarantine. At my neighborhood Kroger yesterday (where I use curbside pickup), I was happy to see at least 90 percent of customers walking into and out of the store wearing masks.

Suresh Chaganti

Apple (or any retailer) is a private establishment. Denying entry based on a temperature check is not discriminatory. What they do with the data has to be lawful. They obviously cannot store it, use it for future decisions to deny entry, or worse use it for some kind of re-marketing.

I think it is sensible even if it intrusive. The reality is, nothing has changed in terms of the availability of therapeutics or a vaccine. It’s just that people are getting comfortable in going out, and have more awareness in terms of hygiene and social distancing. Temperature checks are certainly part of that package.

Cynthia Holcomb

Temperature checks on employees are a good time to remind associates of COVID-19 self-care and the importance of caring for the customer. This is possibly the new meaning of customer care in 2020. Most customers will say “sure” to temperature checks. For those who do not, Apple needs a clear response so that Apple associates can feel comfortable in delivering the message to the few who become irritated with the request.

Jeff Sward

Creating a safe shopping environment will give the most customers the most confidence to do more shopping. For a lot of indoor malls it seems like this could be handled at the mall entrance, relieving individual stores of all having to do the same check. Wearing a mask and social distancing will have to be practiced continuously, but temperature checking could be handled upon entry.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
2 years 6 months ago

I think it is a very good idea. I am getting my temperature checked every time I go to the gym and it takes a few seconds. The employees have to get their temperature taken so it’s not a stretch and I feel better about going into the establishment.

Steve Montgomery

There is a big difference between requiring your employees to have their temperature checked and requiring your customers to do the same thing. I fully understand the rationale and support it. However, while the push back from your employees may be minimal it is likely that won’t be the case from some customers.

An example of the customers’ reaction might be similar to their reaction to the requirement to wear a mask when shopping in a store. There continue to be many articles about customers who refuse to wear a mask and even become hostile.

Ray Riley

In a once-in-a-lifetime global health pandemic, public health and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. A lower chance of the virus spreading is good for retailers (teams, healthcare costs, and their families), the healthcare system, and of course customers. The challenges in execution on the front-line in retail stores on the other hand are significant. We’ve already seen some of the tragic outcomes for front-line retail workers trying to enforce a mask policy.

Zel Bianco

Yes,by all means they should do whatever is necessary to stop the madness! We may never get things going if we, as Americans do what what we did this weekend. What the heck were people thinking? The crowds at beaches in the south and at lakes in the Ozarks was truly horrific. Retailers have a right and in fact should demand that customers wear a mask and submit to a temperature check. Just watch the numbers climb in the next few weeks. Retailers and their employees deserve better!

Dr. Stephen Needel

I get it for employees. For customers, only if they ask for it. If I’m forced to do it my mask and I are going somewhere else.

Bob Amster

Irrespective of what some municipalities, states, beach-and-worship goers say, this is a potentially deadly disease and must follow the science. if the scientific protocol states that this is de rigueur then, as inconvenient as some may find it, that is what all retail businesses (and airlines, and movie theaters, and so on…) should be doing. Trading a nice new MacPro for potential death doesn’t seem equitable.

Bethany Allee

Should they? If they want to. Every store/company should make their own safety decisions. Before you dismiss this as careless…

For me, I’ve already stopped shopping at stores that don’t offer safety decisions and policies I agree with. This weekend, I went into a local chain I’ve been a loyal customer of for almost 30 years. They had social distancing measures in place, but the cashiers weren’t wearing masks and there was no plexi protection. During my checkout process, when social distancing was not an option, the unmasked cashier sneezed.

It told me this business is not interested in my well being and I will not shop there again. 30 years of customer loyalty down the drain in an instant.

The moral of the story is – safety policies should match the policies of your customers. If they don’t, you’ll lose customers.

Shep Hyken

This is a precaution to keep customers and employees safe. It sends a positive message. It builds trust. For those that feel inconvenienced, too bad. Retailers must do what is necessary to keep everyone safe, create consumer confidence and not be bullied by the small percentage of people who claim their rights are being violated. There are plenty of other retailers (unfortunately) who have less stringent guidelines for safety and health for these outliers who are bucking the safety and health guidelines that retailers are adopting.

Paula Rosenblum

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Based on behavior seen on beaches over the weekend (we were totally rained out in southern Florida, so I can’t comment on here), people really do need adult supervision.

Too bad we don’t have an instant test. That would be a better call, but we don’t.

Laura Davis
Laura Davis
Founder, Branded Ground
2 years 6 months ago

We actually do Paula, we just created one–it takes a contactless temp scan in less than 1 second.