There is so much happening in the retail environment from a security, and nowadays from a health perspective, that optimising your security assets has become more important than ever as retailers focus on improving operations and adhering to regulations. However, it is no surprise that budgets for new technology, no matter how impressive the video analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) on board may be, are limited due to the impact of the poor economy and, of course, the coronavirus.
Today, more than simply wanting the latest security solutions that can keep watch down aisles and examine the transactions at point-of-sale devices, retailers want their security equipment to add value. They want the security functionality and more.
However, are they aware of and taking advantage of new capabilities in the security technology field or sticking to manual processes due to cost constraints? And perhaps the most important question in this case is, are the technology vendors delivering the solutions they require?
Alex Penhaligon, project sales manager at Hikvision SA, says that running a successful retail business is no easy task, and it is becoming increasingly challenging. “For many retail operators, they are still figuring out how to stop shoplifters and keep a close eye at the warehouse; at the same time, making sure customers have great in-store experience has also become a pressing issue.”
Security is inevitably one of the most basic, yet crucial requirements for all retailers, he adds. “Improving their security system is more than just protecting store assets, and it also creates a safer and more comfortable environment for customers to shop in. Demands on intelligent security – with various applications for pre-event warning, real-time alert, and post-event evidence retrieval – are increasing.”
When looking to make better and faster decisions to optimise operation, retailers also require rich information and the capability to link pieces together. Smart video technology-based solutions can collect data, run analyses, and conduct multi-dimensional data fusion. “With smart video systems, retailers can now gain a deeper understanding of customers as a group, observe business patterns, increase operational efficiency, and utilise the right tools to optimise customers’ shopping experience,” Penhaligon adds.
Axis Communication’s sales engineer for Africa, Moshe Blieden, notes that retailers are looking for more edge-based applications with cloud functionality in order to reduce the hardware and therefore the cost requirement of a new solution, while the cloud services also allow access from anywhere.
“Retailers want solutions that go beyond the traditional people counting with systems that, for instance, monitor queues and allow events to trigger when a queue becomes too long,” Blieden adds.
Beyond the security function
It’s easy to talk about using security technology to optimise operations, but what are the security vendors offering today that can accomplish this without requiring a full ‘rip-and-replace’ exercise?
Some technologies Axis Communications can offer, according to Blieden, include:
• Queue Monitor: tracks how many people are standing in a predefined area (e.g. a queue) and the level of activity within that area. It also triggers real-time push alerts if the queue is too long.
• Demographic Identifier: counts male and female visitors and provides an age estimate. It can also be used to trigger digital signage messages based on age/gender.
• Network audio solutions: provides in-store background music and enables live and scheduled announcements.
• Digital signage: enables targeted marketing messages to visitors based on age and gender when integrated, for example, with the AXIS Demographic Identifier.
From the Hikvision perspective, Penhaligon points to Hikvision solutions that can optimise operations with functionality such as customer traffic analysis, queue detection and heat mapping.
“Knowing how many people visited stores and being able to analyse the patterns and trends of shoppers are crucial to any kind of store, big or small. For example, identifying peak shopping times improves schedule management, comparing customer traffic before and after a promotional event shows its effectiveness, and so on. Large shopping malls can also utilise this tool for cross-store or cross-type business analyses, allowing the management team to optimise stationed stores and strategise key locations for varying types of businesses.”
Penhaligon adds that customers who find themselves in a seemingly endless line may grow intensely frustrated, to the point that they abandon the store. To tackle this problem, queue detection technology uses cameras to count the number of people in a line, to a predetermined threshold. Once the threshold of customers has been reached, and if more customers are continuing to wait, the system alerts store management to open new checkouts.
Data that reveals which areas are most visited could be a great help for operational insights. In the shelf area, heat-mapping technology marks the popularity of each shelf area. Combined with other information, problems with commodities become apparent. For example, if retailers see an area is highly visited but the product sales volume is low, they can further reason whether that’s because the current products or brands lack attraction, or that the products are going to expire soon.
In the pipeline
The pandemic has naturally had an impact on retailers and many try to use their security applications, with some modifications, to manage new issues such as social distancing and counting the number of people in a store at any one time. At the same time, research and development on new products and technologies has not stopped and vendors are gearing up to offer new retail solutions as the pandemic (hopefully) gets under control.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked Axis and Hikvision what readers can expect from them in terms of retail functionality, right now as well as in the near future.
One new solution involves the dreaded audit. “Audits are necessary for retail stores, especially for the chain stores, but audits are often beset by challenges like high management costs, inefficiency of on-site audits, management vulnerability, and lack of further data analysis,” states Penhaligon. “Hikvision’s Remote Audit Solution reuses existing CCTV systems and moves the offline audit process online – vastly improving efficiency and standardisation.
“With Hikvision’s solution, retailers can complete their planning, auditing, rectifying, and statistics and review processes swiftly and accurately. They will be generating reports, analysing the results, and then revising the final product with helpful tools and savvy insights.”
He also adds that with HikCentral, IT management for retailers is more centralised and easy to use. “All the statistics and analysis they may need to maintain a healthy and effective system are all shown in one place. All the information can be intuitively displayed with a marketing data dashboard. For the management team that needs to check and run multiple stores, the dashboard also shows shop locations on the E-map and all related information for efficient review.”
For solutions from Axis, Blieden offers the following list:
• AXIS Store Reporter.
• AXIS Occupancy Estimator.
• AXIS Queue Monitor.
• AXIS People Counter/AXIS 3D
• Background music for business.
• Integrated public address solution.
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