Should Apple and other stores require shopper temperature checks?

Discussion
Photo: @jinnaritt via Twenty20
May 26, 2020
Tom Ryan

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?

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


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Ken Morris
BrainTrust

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.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 13 days 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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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
BrainTrust

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-Taylor
BrainTrust

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

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I just read an article about how quickly COVID-19 can spread in offices, restaurants and stores, followed by a segment on GMA about reopened states and COVID-19 rebound. Even though we enter new phases, and are loosening what is required, it doesn’t mean the virus is gone. Temperature checks in stores, or at mall entrances, is a good idea, and masks should be required as well.

We are talking about saving lives here, being inconvenienced is the least of our worries. Read up on how theme parks like Six Flags and Universal Studios are readying to reopen. Retailers need a similar commitment.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
I’m steeped in this topic, as my company recently sprinted into creating a solution to automate the process. Having spent the weekend perusing retailers in the open-for-business state of Georgia, I was very alarmed by the polarized approaches the various retailers are taking. Some were very diligent, but fell down in key areas. Many associates were walking around with masks pulled down and quickly pulling them up when a customer was nearby. I even witnessed a full-blown argument between a customer and an employee who refused to pull his up as he engaged with her –and this in the store of a top-three grocery brand. A mother in Target was running around with three children in a kid cart, none masked and all appearing less than healthy. A smoothie retailer had associate masks required, but no hand sanitizer or gloves and only full contact payment. When I questioned them, they said that many patrons were coming in with no masks on and they felt unsafe. From all the due diligence I’ve been steeped in around… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The lack of testing has thrown us into this mess. That said, Apple is a different kind of retailer, where close interactions with store associates are the norm. For grab-and-go operations, a mask alone should be sufficient.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think retailers should put in place whatever requirements they deem to be sensible. However, people who are contagious do not always have elevated temperatures – especially during the incubation period. To me this underlines the need to have multiple layers of protection as well as temperature checks.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Unfortunately, a person’s temperature is not a solid indicator of illness, but, an elevated temperature can help identify someone who is sick and may prevent someone else from being exposed to the virus. Taking customers’ and employees’ temperatures, ensuring everyone is wearing a mask, and providing hand sanitizer for all are key ways to help stop the spread of this disease. It is not going to be easy to manage and customers will balk at being required to do so or being barred from entering if they have a fever, but we are not in “normal” times and it seems that wearing a mask and allowing an employee to take my temperature (in a safe manner of course) is a small price to pay to allow the economy to get started again safely.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
It’s not perfect, but in the absence of reliable instant tests, a little inconvenience (temp checks and masks) isn’t asking much to ensure the safety and health of others. I especially see this as more important for smaller format stores, like most Apple stores. It may be challenging to execute this for most grocery stores or big box stores like Costco. For mall-based stores, it seems more practical for the mall itself to implement these checks and relieve the stores of the responsibility and process. This isn’t about privacy – so long as no retailer is accumulating this data, associating it with individuals, or sending to authorities. In other words, if it’s a real-time temp check with no data retention whatsoever there shouldn’t be any question about this. Just as we accept in normal circumstance the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” retail policy, this should be no different when we are in the middle of a pandemic. Especially when we aren’t even close to the other side of the pandemic, despite what certain government… Read more »
Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Temperature checks are not a reliable indicator of illness; many who are infected show no symptoms. On the other hand, less than 20 percent of shoppers are confident that retailers are providing a safe shopping environment. Bottom line: it’s mostly window dressing, but it’s probably necessary window dressing for now.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

Safety for customers and staff must be top priority. However, to check temperature before a person enters a store is nonsense. The most dangerous time to infect others is most of the time BEFORE people feel any symptoms. Social distancing and safety measures (masks, plexiglass at counters, contactless payment etc.) are much more important and needed to regain trust from the customer.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

There needs to be government direction on policies like this. Otherwise, it turns into a free for all and the inconsistency causes confusion for customers and employees alike.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

When you think about it, if we are thinking about taking shoppers’ temperatures now, why didn’t we have concerns over the common flu in the past? Or H1N1 where more than 60 million Americans got infected in 2009/10? More importantly, the most common skin temperature thermometers are wildly inaccurate. Here’s an example. I drove to a blood donation center to donate and my skin temperature was too high, so they turned me away. I drove there with the convertible top down and it was a hot day. In fact, my temperature dropped as I stood in their office, however they only accepted the first temperature reading. If a retailer is going to actually go down the path of taking shopper temperatures, I would utilize a true internal thermometer, as summertime will show a higher number of people with elevated skin temperatures.

Bottom line, this is all getting a bit crazy.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Perfect example. Enjoy the good weather.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust
I am OK with temperature checks for employees. Let’s find out if they have an elevated temperature and if so, send them home and encourage them to seek medical care. As for temperature checks for customers, it is all theater. 30 percent of COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic. That means that there is a one in three chance that a COVID carrier will pass the temperature check and can pass the virus to someone else. If you really want to stop the spread, require everyone entering the store to wear a mask. More than protecting yourself, the mask is for protecting others. COVID-19 is like a weapon that kills people (about 100,000 to date in the U.S.). Would you let someone into you store with a physical weapon? It doesn’t matter if the store is a sole proprietor or the biggest chain in the world. It is a private store and the store gets to make the rules. It is their right to allow whoever they want in the store (as long as the rules do… Read more »
Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Are stores that will be temperature screening customers medically certified to make health assessments or is this a liability cover story? Are they creating a false sense of customer safety by using one of many COVID-19 symptoms as a determination of a customer’s in-store exposure risk? To what extent will they go to block a shopper’s entry into a store based on their temperature?

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

Apple is not the first, and there have been some extremes. In a piece published last month, I covered temperature checks in Italy and China. And Emirates was taking blood tests (with a 10 minute response time) of airline passengers to confirm non-infection before flights.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

The real issue is, do employees feel safe working in the stores? Temperature checks are one of the tools that employers can use. While it may not be 100 percent accurate, the employees will support the retailer attempting to make the stores better for themselves and the customers. Over time, as the workplace becomes safer with less impact from the virus, the temperature sensors should disappear.

Testing customers is a bigger challenge since they do not work for the retailer. If a customer refuses a temperature check, the retailer can either let them in anyway or refuse to allow them in the store, a bad form of customer service.

Joe Skorupa
Guest

If you don’t want your stores becoming the next coronavirus hot spot like the meatpacking plants, you should do everything in your power to prevent sick people — staffers or shoppers — from spreading the disease in your stores. Taking temperatures during a pandemic seems like a reasonable step to take for a national retail chain.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
Let’s stipulate that a front door temperature check provides a less-than-statistically-perfect indicator of latent infection. Does that completely negate its value? I think not: It will reduce (not eliminate) the likelihood of viral transmission. Since pandemic control is a game of statistics, any activities that tend to improve the odds should be pursued. Along with required masks and extra surface disinfection, it sends a message about the retailer’s concern for its shoppers and employees. This is more than “signalling” but also much less than a guarantee. It is part of providing a safer environment for all. It will flag a few individuals who are truly at risk, so they can be steered toward more definitive diagnosis and treatment options before they get sicker or infect many others. In environments where close personal interaction is anticipated (think hair salons, barber shops, medical offices, and even Apple stores), the risk is intrinsically greater, therefore any and all steps to limit likelihood of transmission should be pursued. Shoppers who object on the basis of personal freedom should be… Read more »
Kathy Kimple
BrainTrust

A retailer’s priority is to keep their store associates and customers safe. Towards that end, retailers should look to follow state and CDC guidelines on reopening and managing a safe environment. In the case of temperature checks and customers, implementation is likely to face many challenges. Managing the customers that say no, and training store staff to deal with borderline readings creates additional pressure on store teams. It is also a given that some people may be contagious before presenting a temperature. 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.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Definitely think that retailers should take temperature checks of associates as a standard daily practice and wearing cloth face coverings and having hand sanitizer readily available in-store should be the norm for associates and customers, without exception. Add in social distancing, and if all of these precautions are followed, I’m less concerned about taking temperature checks on customers.

I do think that in tech retail stores, such as Apple, there is more direct engagement with products and it does warrant a higher level of assurance that customers are healthy.

jbarnes
Guest

Let’s focus on the safety for all humans first and foremost. I applaud Apple for taking action regarding the public safety for US Citizens (employees and consumers). The technology exists to take the temperature of humans on a massive scale. Singapore, South Korea and China are taking the temperatures of people in public locations and it has proven to be effective in protecting the health of their citizens. Unfortunately it takes Apple and corporate America to drive public health policies about what is safe and what is not safe for consumers and their employees. The largest barrier to mass temperature testing for US Citizens is privacy and the protection of personal data. I think we can overcome data privacy issues.

Note: taking one’s temperature by itself is not a silver bullet but if it makes a consumer or employee think about coming to work or being in public space and compromising the health of others, then I am 100% behind it.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 13 days ago

Apple is again proving its focus on customers and employees in a manner head and shoulders above most other retailers. Safety and security are new loyalty currencies and our recent research shows that they are significantly more important given COVID-19, ranking just being pricing.

While it’s all imperfect, along with our knowledge of the virus, while temperature taking is fallible it remains at least a symbolic gesture by the store that the safety and security of customers (and employees) is most important. Recent data show 89% of consumers are concerned about that relative to going back in to stores.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 13 days ago
Not every retailer is Apple. Not every retailer is a “touch based” retailer where people are touching shared product displays and interacting directly with an employee standing directly next to them (no checkout counter barrier or anything to purchase). In a self serve hard goods retailer you go into the store and take the item you want off the shelf and you go pay. You don’t touch a bunch of items that don’t leave the store with you (maybe a few…). In soft goods it is a little trickier as people do try more items and touch more but buy a lot fewer than they touch, but realistically with the number of garments and pieces of product in a soft goods store, combined with very low customer density in soft goods stores, those items are really not being handled or breathed within a few feet of by many people in a given day. Nothing like an Apple Store where literally hundreds of people are either handling or breathing/talking within a couple feet of numerous product… Read more »
Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think it is necessary just because you want the customers in the store to be comfortable of the risk levels. It isn’t foolproof, but it is a way to manage the people flowing in and out of the store and potentially can help with contact tracing if someone is diagnosed later. Nothing is perfect, but we don’t have a perfect solution.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

For what it’s worth, temperature checks have some innate flaws:

  • Symptoms such as fever take 4-6 days from infection to occur;
  • Temperatures as a symptom don’t always show. Customers can be asymptomatic with this particular virus;
  • Temperature checking devices (contactless) are expensive and inaccurate;
  • Customers can easily bypass the check by taking medication or even a piece of ice.
  • The costs outweigh the value of the check for employee management, risk to employees, and customers’ inconvenience;
  • Those with a high fever probably won’t be going to the store anyway.

It’s a measurement without a control or clarity into impact — almost a useless test. However, it might catch a couple of people trying to sneak in or some that don’t know they are sick yet. Is that enough to justify it? Depends on the retailer and their management team.

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

Not to devalue temperature checks, but I don’t believe they will prevent the spread of the virus from an asymptomatic customer or employee.

The best protection is everyone wearing a protective face-mask, gloves, and observing the proper hygiene and prophylactic measures to avoid spreading and getting Covid-19.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 13 days ago
Lots of issues with this. I don’t want someone in a retail store getting close enough to me to take my temperature. Huge social distancing violation based on current guidelines both for me and that employee. I don’t want a “communal” thermometer that has been used on hundreds of people getting anywhere near me either. No way. I watched a grocery store that is doing temperature checks on employees in my area. Their employee thermometer was sitting right on top of the self checkout attendant station. The same tiny little sliver of space that they place voided items, cash, employee cell phones, and who knows what else sits from time to time day to day. I assume they sanitize is between uses but I don’t know. Now if it was a “walk through” temperature scanner where it only flags you if you have a problem then someone comes out from hiding to stop you, similar to an airport in China when you try to enter their country, at least it is a temperature measurement that… Read more »
Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Research we just conducted found that 55 percent of shoppers are only “somewhat” confident in the safety of shopping in-store in the supermarket. Whether the shopper’s temperature is a strong indicator or not, the combination of a variety of safety measures is important in instilling a sense of confidence when shoppers head out to the store.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"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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