IP surveillance in retail

May 2009 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

This D-Link white paper addresses the problems faced by retail marketers, the advantages of IP surveillance video ­solutions.

With some difficult economic years ahead, the retail market is faced with stronger competition and consumers with much tighter pockets. This environment makes it critical to deploy new operational tools that promise enhanced profitability.

Using the latest networking technologies to link and streamline every aspect of the operation, retailers are finding creative ways to do more with less. The latest video surveillance innovation offers new ways to maximise profit margins and lower the total cost of ownership for retail operations.

Video surveillance is not a new concept for retail markets. In fact, recent market research estimates that about six million video cameras monitor customers and employees across the United States. The problem is that many retailers have outdated analogue camera systems that deliver poor video quality and require hours of search time. In fact, in terms of loss prevention, the inability of an analogue surveillance system to quickly identify unlawful behaviour, coupled with the subsequent delay in discovering the incident, enables shoplifters and dishonest employees to succeed longer.

New technology is the answer – and if retail operators are serious about loss prevention and operational improvements, the advantages of today’s IP video surveillance solutions with programmable, built-in intelligence, cannot be overlooked. These systems are packed with features that not only deter and reduce theft, but the same intelligence features enable new in-store applications for determining and improving the effectiveness of day-to-day operations.

Retail industry’s surveillance issues

Loss prevention is a huge issue faced by retailers – to the tune of more than $30 billion per year. In a sagging economy, retailers cannot absorb these losses, and preventing even a small percentage would significantly improve their bottom line. However, existing analogue surveillance systems are drastically limited in their capabilities to deal with potential thefts, suspicious behaviour, and other events.

Analogue video systems are unable to detect criminal behaviour and alert personnel – they lack technological intelligence. Someone must constantly monitor the video screens to catch a thief in the act or search through hours of video to prove theft after the fact.

Even then, much of the video has very poor quality, delivering blurry and distorted images that may not be conclusive as evidence when prosecuting criminal activity. Additionally, this poor-quality video cannot be re-used for training or other applications, such as for facial recognition systems.

Although loss prevention is the largest concern for retail operations, there are operational issues that affect profit margins. The effectiveness of the store’s layout or display designs also has an effect on consumer purchases. The interaction between employees and customers affects consumer satisfaction and subsequent loyalty. The safety of both clients and employees should also be a concern for the retailer. The reality is that a retailer’s ability to keep a watchful eye on overall daily business operations affords opportunities for making improvements, eliminating losses, and generally enhancing business profitability potential.

The answer to these and other issues facing retail marketers is IP surveillance video. The new 'smart' technologies embedded within these systems, along with ease of deployment, provides the ultimate solution for loss prevention while enabling a vast array of new opportunities for improving and streamlining the retail business.

IP surveillance advantages

By installing or upgrading to a new IP surveillance video system, today’s retailers add much more functionality and capabilities beyond simple videotaping. First, if a local area network (LAN) is already available, incorporating an IP video surveillance system is easier and cameras can be deployed in every store and department to collect the video onto one network. Each branch or department can access the video for other applications, such as training, monitoring customer and employee behaviour, layout and display effectiveness, and more.

The intelligence of today’s IP video surveillance cannot be overstated. Today’s solutions can actually be programmed to watch and recognise certain kinds of behaviour, events and action, eliminating the need for people to continually monitor the videos.

The advantages of IP versus analog surveillance in retail marketing begin with the number one concern of retailers – loss prevention. Intelligence at the camera level can be programmed to 'watch' for suspicious behaviour, such as customers taking multiple units of an item not normally purchased in bulk or cashiers neglecting to scan a purchase. These smart cameras can detect organised crime behaviours and quickly alert other stores on the network. The cameras can integrate with electronic article systems to ensure proper procedures are followed when a customer trips the store exit alarm. They can also link with point-of-sale (POS) systems to help eliminate unauthorised discounts or improper sales.

But the benefits of intelligent network cameras are not limited to loss prevention – there are additional advantages that can positively affect the retailer’s bottom line and position them ahead of the competition. One such advantage is storage of and easy access to networked video. For example, this video can be used to develop and test innovative store layouts, work processes, and technologies that boost sales and profits while minimising losses and criminal activity.

The IP video surveillance system can be programmed to recognise certain actions and events, such as customer traffic, length of checkout lines, restocking issues and aisle obstructions. Hours of video can be quickly searched in minutes by event recognition.

Customer/employee interactions can also be monitored to improve service and help train new employees in everything from spotting potential shoplifting situations to better assisting customers. Because of the ability to network IP video surveillance systems directly into an existing LAN, retailers can eliminate separate legacy closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems and incorporate a highly intelligent loss prevention system into one entity. This reduces the total cost of ownership while providing all the additional benefits of an IP solution. Cost savings are realised in several ways, including leveraging existing infrastructure and information technology (IT) expertise. Network cameras use IP addresses and can be inexpensively installed throughout the existing LAN just like any other network device.

Additionally, IP video surveillance systems use open standards and data is transmitted over ordinary Ethernet protocol used on most enterprise systems. Capabilities are easily added, upgraded and future-proofed using available software, while powerful software management tools are available for monitoring, accessing and storing video information. The LAN implementation also allows capacity scaling to grow with the retail business, as well as reliable off-site storage.

An IP video surveillance solution deployed within a LAN offers video access to any location on the network. This means any store on the network has instant access to video of a particular incident, enabling a central monitoring capability anywhere on the network. Less people are required to achieve and maintain a higher level of surveillance. In fact, with any Internet connection and the proper security requirements, live camera feeds can be accessed from any location using a computer, laptop, or other device over a wireless or wired connection.

The digital cameras alone offer the latest digital technologies that provide huge advantages over traditional analog cameras, such as:

* Resolution – while analogue cameras provide the equivalent of a 0,4 megapixel resolution, network digital cameras can deliver 16 times that resolution across a larger area while offering superior zooming capability.

* Installation – network cameras are always less expensive to install and require no power outlet (using Power-over-Ethernet technology) to ensure 24/7 operation.

* Intelligence – intelligent digital cameras include motion detection, directional motion, abandoned objects, object removal, human presence, camera tampering, identification, and digital pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) capabilities.

* Buffers – network digital cameras can be equipped with buffers that save and send collected images recorded before and after alarm activations.

Today’s digital cameras continue to evolve to offer an array of value-added features not available on other cameras. These features become even more valuable when several cameras are networked together over an IP surveillance solution.

Choosing the right solution

Choosing the right IP video surveillance solution for any retail operation is not a 'one-size-fits-all' decision. The current state and existing infrastructure will dictate how to proceed. But with the improved functionality of digital cameras versus traditional analogue devices, coupled with the many programmable features available with IP surveillance solutions, the choice becomes a matter of improving the retailer’s bottom line.

For more information contact Karien Wood, D-Link SA, +27 (0)12 665 2165, karien@d-link.co.za


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