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Keep shopping malls and shoppers safe

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With the annual holiday season fast approaching and shopping malls nationwide preparing for the usual end of year deluge, the safety and security of both tenants and consumers plays a critical part in the effective management of South Africa’s retail environment.
“Gone are the days of a camera simply being a camera,” comments Roy Alves, country manager: MEA at Axis communications. Previously, insurance requirements were often the major driver for the installation of video cameras within shopping malls. “It was a far more reactive process,” continues Alves. However, with a lack of focus on image quality, frame rate or resolution, the footage pulled was often not able to provide the required information. Additional challenges included faulty or stolen cameras, or even the lack of any camera having being installed at the place of incident.
The last two years, though, has seen a significant shift in the use of video surveillance across South Africa’s retail space. This has been driven in large not only by an increase in criminal activity targeting certain outlets, but similarly, due to technology developments within IP surveillance. “The growth of social media has also played a role,” continues Alves. “The potential for any incident to go viral within a few hours is very high.” Not only is the incident itself cause for concern with regards to the safety and security of all involved, but the fall out and potential damage to that shopping centre’s reputation poses great risk.
With Axis listing several leading shopping centres amongst its customer base, Alves goes on to share a snapshot of what is possible for local retailers. “Whilst interest and uptake has increased, there is still so much more to be done, capable of providing enhanced security not only during holiday periods but literally all year long,” stresses Alves.
Improvements in both image quality and processing power is making way for the use of facial recognition technology in South Africa. Based on specially developed software, facial recognition technology analyses video streams from network cameras allowing for the ‘matching’ of faces against those stored in a database. “It is an excellent way of detecting non-desirables, with a history of criminal behaviour,” says Alves. Whilst no local installations yet, Alves is seeing a lot of interest with various proof of concepts (POCs) currently underway. “Unlike Europe, South Africa comes with its own unique challenges including dark skins and lots of sunlight,” says Alves. “However, improvements in image quality is lending itself to more rapid adoption with several companies beginning to deliver facial recognition software.”
On the other hand, a feature that has enjoyed wide local adoption across shopping centre parking areas, including exit and entrance points, is that of license plate recognition (lPR). “It enables the quick and easy identification of stolen cars, or vehicles that have potentially been involved in any kind of criminal activity,” says Alves.
He goes on to add though that heightened security, and the increasingly wide use of analytics, stands to benefit not only visitors and consumers but the actual bottom line of retailers themselves. Known as ‘sweetheart scanning’, a cashier working in conjunction with a supposed customer will scan a lower priced item whilst packing the item of higher value into the ‘customer’s’ shopping bag. A camera, focused on confirming that the number of items packed matches the number of items scanned, will not detect this. However, sophisticated analytics, through the analysis of what is known as ‘event driven video, is playing a huge role in its detection.
By analysing point of sale information, inconsistencies in till data is detected. “Take the example of every till point, with one exception, scanning on average one box of matches per day,” says Alves. “analytics is able to detect that one till point scanning half a dozen, due to the inconsistency compared to the rest of the till points.” This is enabling retailers to detect and identify internal theft operations such as sweetheart scanning.
Whilst not yet mainstream, this use of sophisticated analytics also known as intelligent surveillance, is increasing. “The sad reality is that the greatest source of theft within South Africa’s retail environment is internal,” says Alves. Whilst IP surveillance brings with it enormous benefits for the safety and security of consumers and shopping malls in general, it is also lending itself to the detection and combatting of employee theft.
Yet, it is not all doom and gloom. IP surveillance also brings with it the capability for an improved customer experience. Known as ‘people counting’, intelligent surveillance can detect not only increases in traffic, alerting store managers to up the number of till points available, but similarly it allows for smarter planning around promotions and product displays by analysing the various demographics of its customers from age through to gender.
Alves is confident that the future of surveillance within local retail holds great possibility. “The greatest concern for retailers and consumers this holiday season should be meeting targets or sticking to budgets,” he says. With the commoditisation of both IP surveillance technology and hardware and the resulting price decreases, together with constantly evolving technology, Alves is confident that the future of local retail can deliver exactly that.