More and better tools to combat retail theft have come to market in recent years, including video analytics software. While video analytics is most commonly deployed in loss prevention applications, it is also useful to address a variety of other challenges, writes Bradley Cabral, director of ANV Holdings.
In fact, the current trend is to use video to improve revenues and enhance operations. Here, then, are some productivity, merchandising and customer service applications for video analytics:
Retailers often guess at what staffing levels should be at certain times on given days, based on vague information (comments like: “the shop was pretty busy yesterday afternoon”) regarding store traffic. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find too many or too few staff on the floor, which can translate into either unnecessary personnel expenses or poor customer service levels and lost sales.
But with the use of “people counting” applications linked to video cameras that focus on entrances and exits, some retailers are taking the guessing out of staffing. Once they know how much busier the store is at specific days and times, they can delegate staff appropriately.
Other retailers have taken this even further. They’ve added additional cameras and are analysing the amount of foot traffic moving into individual department areas to determine, for example, grocery department staffing needs versus those of the clothing and electronics departments.
Beyond staffing, counting the volume flow of shoppers can be useful in merchandising. One retailer had promotional signage near the entrance it believed most customers entered. Through video-based people counting, it quickly discovered that almost half were actually entering through another area with limited signage and therefore increased its promotional signage there.
Customer flow
Analysing more than the number of people entering and leaving the store can provide additional benefits. For example, one jewellery chain uses video analytics to measure customer traffic flow patterns by aisle and displays. The retailer then evaluates whether merchandise is being displayed properly and analyses the impact of sales promotions.
The technology is so advanced it can now accurately note how many people stop in front of an endcap or display for a length of time (say 10 seconds) to gauge their interest in an item or items.
By filtering out all other video footage, retailers can view all such behaviour that takes place over the course of a month in a matter of minutes. This enables them to redesign the shop layout and to test whether customer browsing increases with the change.
Over time, retailers can conduct trend analysis month-to-month or year-to-year – to uncover hidden trends and anticipate unusual customer traffic.
That same jewellery chain also uses analytic motion tracking/thermal zone capabilities to determine locations within the store that customers most frequent. For example, it is able to identify whether customers go directly to specific counters with sales items or browse throughout the entire store first.
Another retailer wanted to know more than just how many people are lingering next to a particular item. It wondered whether they were male or female. This retailer now calls up each 10-second video of individuals who stopped near specific items, identifies their gender, then skips to the next video clip and so on.
By doing so, it can determine within an hour the gender of more than 350 people who have been near an area of interest, something that couldn’t be done in the past.
Customer service
Knowing when customers need assistance can improve their level of satisfaction and increase sales. Aiming video cameras integrated with analytics on high-margin items to see when customers loiter more than 10 seconds is an easy way to accomplish this.
One retailer found that 75% of customers standing at high-value items were not getting customer service help. It implemented video analytic alarms linked to store associates’ mobile devices, so personnel would approach customers who appeared to need assistance. Doing so dramatically increased these interactions and improved sales.
That same retailer also conducts periodic audits via analytics to ensure that over time a high percentage of these customers continue to get assistance.
Another retailer links local store video to its central headquarters where it conducts periodic audits to ensure that products are being displayed properly and customers are receiving proper service. On occasion, it has even sent remote alerts to staff that customers require assistance.
Given that some stores are 2 500 miles away, in addition to improving the customer experience, it has also saved considerable travel time and staff expense.
In other cases, retailers have used analytics to be alerted when a customer arrives at the register, detect how fast checkout lines are growing and even predict when they will reach a size that requires additional cashiers. By doing so, they can address long lines and impatient customers before they become dissatisfied.
Market research
Getting accurate metrics regarding buyer behaviour can be frustrating. But when various analytic capabilities are combined, retailers can determine how many people walked in the store, then determine what percentage entered a given department, figure out how many of those paused for a period next to an item and received help from an associate.
The retailer then compares POS numbers to determine what percentage of those who showed interest in a given product resulted in a sale. Doing so enables retailers to analyse multiple store elements that can be improved.
Safety and security
The safety and security of both employees and customers is of critical importance and is a significant factor in terms of liability and insurance. With analytics, the retailer can be alerted to potential safety threats without putting staff in danger and have advanced search tools for quickly reviewing recorded video for investigational purposes.
In some cases, these tools have saved retailers from fraudulent lawsuits originating when shoppers fake falls or other injuries in aisles.
More than just loss prevention
Loss prevention groups will continue to use video analytics to reduce shrink; users shouldn’t minimise that value. But retailers are also finding new and creative ways to improve operations, merchandising and customer service with video analytics.