Retail Surveillance

Long useful for nabbing shoplifters, video analytics can bring other forms of intelligence to retail.

By Hedgie Bartol

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then video is worth a million words, especially in retail. Today’s video surveillance cameras are becoming more and more intelligent. They possess the processing power to accomplish much more than in the past. Among the tasks these cameras can perform is the ability to analyze video for a variety of purposes, including people counting to determine which way customers move around a store and more.

However, despite the processing power of today’s cameras, it would simply not be possible to run all analytics on every camera. So, how can retailers deploy cameras and analytics efficiently and effectively to provide alert capabilities and the information required for security and operational purposes?

Thankfully, many cameras offer the ability to utilize applications to perform a variety of video analytics. Because applications can be added a la carte, cameras are more customizable and scalable, allowing retailers to deploy cameras for specific purposes within their stores.

Here are some examples of the types of camera analytics that can be deployed and how they can benefit retailers.

Traffic/Heat Mapping

Besides triggering alerts or other actions, video analytics provide valuable data that allow retailers to review trends related to their operations. As an example, based on data collected about foot traffic, it may be necessary to reevaluate staffing requirements to meet demands at certain times and on certain days.

Traffic analytics can also determine what areas of the store need to be staffed at different times based on customer traffic. See an influx of traffic near the electronics in the morning and apparel in the afternoon? This is especially important for larger box stores or department stores, which have different departments, requiring different knowledge or skill sets from sales associates.

Another option is leveraging heat mapping to detect customer movement throughout a store with a visual representation of foot traffic patterns. The heat map tells managers which areas of the store are more popular or “hot” and what areas may not be getting as much foot traffic, which can help determine how well the store layout is working and determine popular areas where advertising or merchandising space can be sold for a premium.

In addition to providing this operational intelligence, heat mapping also offers the potential to avert shoplifting or theft. An area of the store that normally doesn’t see much foot traffic offers a thief a potential opportunity to conceal an item. At the same time, particularly busy areas of the store may require additional cameras – either traditional or thermal – to better monitor crowds.

Marketing and Merchandising

To take video intelligence a step further, retailers can incorporate analytics that can detect individuals’ demographic information and deliver targeted messaging or signage based on a person’s age, gender or other characteristic. For example, if a female is standing in an area, a digital sign could display an ad for makeup or a designer bag. For a male, that same sign might advertise golf clubs that are on sale.

The data collected with this type of analytics can be useful for helping retailers determine who shops at their stores and what they buy, which can further assist in honing marketing, advertising and merchandising efforts.

POS Integration

Integrating video and POS data provides additional analytic capabilities that provide valuable insight and context about transactional data. The information gleaned from this integration could be used for loss prevention or even training purposes. If a person is at the cash register for a long time but only purchases two or three items, it could indicate sweet-hearting from the cashier. With video integration, it is possible to quickly view that specific transaction and see whether the cashier neglected to scan any items.

These integrations also allow managers to quickly and easily review all video instances of returns being processed. If there is no customer present, the chances are good that someone is doing something fraudulent and hurting the bottom line.

Another possibility is to monitor restricted sales. In this situation, whenever alcohol, tobacco or other age-restricted items are purchased, the POS data can be an analytic trigger to flag the corresponding video for review to make sure the cashier asked for identification. Even if the video isn’t flagged, it is possible to search POS transactions for specific types of items for later review of the video.

These are just some of the many possibilities for retailers to up-level their cameras, initially deployed for security purposes, and transform them into business intelligence-gathering devices that can directly impact the bottom line beyond just loss-prevention. By using camera-based applications, retailers can cost-effectively customize their cameras to meet their unique security and operational requirements.

Armed with the intelligence available in today’s cameras, retailers have the power to know who comes into their stores, how long they stay, what (if anything) they purchase and much more – all of which can be used to increased profits and generate a greater return on their investment in surveillance cameras.

Hedgie Bartol is retail business development manager for Axis Communications Inc.