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UK retailers gather vital business intelligence (BI) using network video

We are noticing increasing deployment of IP-based surveillance cameras to help UK retailers to find operational efficiencies as well as reduce shrinkage. Indeed this trend is confirmed in a key finding from an August 2012 CCTV in Retail survey of 700 UK retailers conducted by the Centre for Retail Research. The study, which was commissioned by Axis Communications, found that 58% of UK retailers plan to migrate from analogue-based CCTV to a new network video system in order to integrate network cameras with business intelligence (BI) applications. BI application integration was the most significant reason for UK retailers to move to network video, or IP Surveillance as it is sometimes called.

So what are these retail-specific BI applications? We were interested to see many of them were geared to capturing and understanding in-store customer behaviour better and flagging up areas for potential improvement.

Frank Crouwel, NW Systems Group Nearly all these applications only work well when retailers deploy network cameras capable of integrating seamlessly with existing BI applications through the use of open platform infrastructure and APIs (Application Programing Interfaces). In addition, the ability to run an increasing range of video analytics software in the camera itself, has definitely supported wider demand for a new generation of ‘intelligent’ network cameras. See the Axis guide to Intelligent Video.

So let’s look at some of the BI applications that are being supported by network cameras in retail today. The most obvious one is People Counting. People counting used to be carried out by standalone devices but increasingly the surveillance camera which covers the entrance to a shop is being fitted with people counting software to capture the image of the visitor as well as log his entry and exit.

The People Counting software produces a stream of metadata which can be easily shared with stakeholders and cross-referenced with sales receipts for the same period. This sort of cross-referencing is a useful way of determining how efficient a given outlet is. If store visitors are rising, but sales at the tills are static or falling, this may point to a sub-optimal store layout, issues with stock volumes or type or some other management issue.

Intelligent network cameras can also hold dwell-time analytics software to help analyse which aisles and displays are working best to attract and retain shoppers. Cameras can also analyse dwell-time alongside images of customers actually picking up products and putting them in their baskets. Again it is valuable to cross-reference dwell-time data with customer action – normally resulting in purchase. However if lots of customers are stopping to look at an offer or display and then walking away this is a fair indication that something in the offer on display does not work for them. Managers can use this business intelligence to investigate further and make improvements.

It is also possible to use images of customers to analyse visitor demographics, specifically collecting age and gender profiles of customers. Network cameras can go further, through integration with facial recognition software, to determine engagement levels of specific groups with specific digital or Point of Sale displays.  This software is increasingly used to establish the number of unique visitors to a store or display. The resulting facts and figures can of course give added leverage to buyers when they are cutting deals with suppliers wanting to display their goods in favourable locations.

To support this type of BI, store owners are increasing deploying network cameras fitted with heat mapping analytics (such as TrueVue Heatmap from Cognimatics). Heat maps determine areas of most activity and highest footfall in the store. The maps can be used to help direct managers’ discussions about the need for better store design to reduce blackspots where few customers venture, and also to stimulate customer flow through the store so they naturally travel next to some of the high value displays. Heat maps can be cross-referenced with till receipt data to confirm the effectiveness of new store layouts.

An integrated network video platform can generate real-time alerts when queues exceed pre-defined thresholds. These alerts should then trigger the opening of additional tills and the acceleration of stock replenishment cycles – thus addressing the one customer experience that we could all do without. Some smarter queue analytics software can also integrate with footfall data at store entrances so that additional tills can be opened before that fresh rush of new visitors reaches the checkouts.

Much of our discussion thus far has been about intelligent network cameras – essentially uploading video analytics software into network cameras which are acting as compact PCs today. However the reality is that the larger the retailer the more likely that all the data and intelligence that these intelligent cameras generate will be analysed and cross-referenced centrally. Retail analytics dashboards like RetailNext, take data feeds from multiple sources, allowing modern retailers to gain real-time access to key BI metrics. This centralised view is increasingly being distributed to key operational managers via smart phones and tablets.

The same CCTV in Retail survey quoted earlier, also found that 63% of UK retailers expressed strong interest in remote access to BI information and in-store cameras via their smart mobile devices – helping managers to manage effectively even when their work requires them to be away from the ‘coal-face’ for a few hours.

NW Systems is deploying intelligent network video systems to help a number of UK retailers reduce shrinkage and improve profitability. What is your experience of using network cameras to underpin BI applications? Let us know.

Next time the NWS Blog will look at how network cameras are being used to target specific types of retail crime. The Global Retail Theft Barometer 2011 gives you an idea of the key types of theft that network cameras are now being configured to target.

Published on September 11th, 2013 by Frank Crouwel

One Response to “UK retailers gather vital business intelligence (BI) using network video”

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    I agree with your post. Camera footage helps to understand customer behavior and their preferences