Video analytics in the retail world

Video surveillance can do a lot more than just CCTV. Systems and analytics have advanced to cover social distancing requirements and occupancy management in the new normal

There’s no question that the shopping experience has changed for both retailers and consumers in the past five years, five months or even five weeks. From a technological standpoint, the industry is rapidly evolving with no signs of slowing down. In the past few years, we’ve seen robots racing around grocery stores to cycle count, augmented reality mirrors in dressing rooms and even autonomous self-checkout experiences such as Amazon Go.

However, the current reality is that many stores are temporarily closed, or just opening their doors. As retailers prepare for the industry’s recovery and the country begins to reopen, retail leaders should be thinking about how to attract consumers to shop in-store, but protecting their safety is imperative. As we enter a “new normal,” it will be essential for retailers to create an environment where consumers feel comfortable returning to stores.

Kevin Waterhouse, Managing Director, VCA writes exclusively for Security Buyer about the changing world of video analytics and how it can help retail business in the new normal.

The recovery starts now. Life as we know it is different, but it’s about as normal as it’s going to get for the foreseeable future. Many sectors, including our own, have needed to make several adjustments to accommodate social distancing regulations which were previously unheard of – especially in crowded cities where personal space was a luxury forgotten in the second half of last century. 

However, the sector which has perhaps had to make the biggest changes is retail. From grocery to luxury, it’s all changed. Even at the busiest sales periods around Christmas and New Year, retailers never required customers to queue outside or manage their occupancy levels so stringently – it was just part and parcel of the calendar year. To help manage the change in circumstance, they have started to turn to security infrastructure to help automate procedures, thereby freeing up staff more. But the truth is, we can be doing more to demonstrate the value of video analytics, as this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

The problem is, retailers often view CCTV cameras as a necessary security deterrent. They’re there to try and stop bad actors, and catch them if they do commit a crime. The system is often managed by security teams and thought of in isolation. However, this really shouldn’t be the case. The fact of the matter is that footage from cameras can help retailers across all areas of their business – they just need to realise this and unlock the benefits.

Maximising store management and the customer journey

Customer experience was probably the biggest buzzword in retail until occupancy usurped it due to COVID-19. However, despite the ‘new normal’, the customer experience is still the holy grail of retail, as due to the competitive nature of the market, if shoppers have a poor experience, it’s unlikely they’ll return. 

This is also an area that retailers could benefit from using video analytics. From hot spots through to store design, they should be looking at how customers navigate the store. From checking that promotions are attracting traffic through to social distancing enforcements, looking at store hotspots could improve the customer experience. For example, most stores have an aisle closest to the tills. In superstores this is not so much the case, but in metro stores or clothes shops, there’s always one display which sits next to the queue. However, in many stores, these smaller yet popular items (soap, tissues, cards) mean shoppers still going around the store are interacting with shoppers waiting to pay. Intelligence confirming this should be passed onto store designers, who should then – for social distancing measures – look to swap the layout to ensure this potential contamination is prevented.

Occupancy management

Whilst many stores have stopped with the manual policing of entrances, now shopping centres are opening up again, stores with multiple entrances and exits are going to be put under strain. Monitoring ingress and egress when there is more than one route in and out takes so much communication that it’s far more efficient to automate. Again, VMS installers and integrators need to be working with their retail clients here to advise on how best to monitor people compliantly. We have seen great success with pose estimation (skeletal analytics), as this method looks for 18 points of recognition in the human frame, and is much more able to identify people in densely populated areas. It also performs significantly better than conventional analytics indoors, because it copes with light reflections and occlusions very well. The added benefit of Pose Estimation is that usually existing cameras can be utilised, so there is no longer a need for a dedicated people counting camera above the door. So using this to count how many people are in a store is ideal and relatively easy to activate, as it can be used with the existing camera infrastructure. For those unable to invest in the extra resource, cameras positioned adjacent to the entrance or exit can be used for counting, and linked up to a simple traffic light system, making it easy for customers to enter the store. By utilising what’s already there, time is saved and personnel previously needed to monitor occupancy are able to add value elsewhere, meaning all business departments benefit.

Social distancing

Video analytics and surveillance systems have now also been adapted to overcome pandemic challenges. For example VCA Technology has released a new software tool to help retailers manage the monitoring of footfall and occupancy in their stores. The software is able to analyse shoppers’ movements in, out and around the store by simply mapping their gait – or how they walk – which is unique to everyone. By mapping this nature of movement, retailers will be able to differentiate shoppers whilst not infringing on their privacy. 

With retailers needing to manage social distancing within stores for the foreseeable future, this solution enables them to monitor the store and apply rules to trigger alerts. This is especially crucial in queue management, which would need rigorous manual oversight. Alerts, on the other hand, can help focus attention to where it’s needed; thereby keeping staff safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten the rules of retail, and the social distancing policies we have seen introduced will not disappear when lockdown ends. The technology we’ve created helps retailers manage this new normal, by integrating with existing software yet providing extra value-adds.

For example, the one in, one out policy is easy to manage in small shops, yet for superstores with multiple entrances and exits, it is much harder to regulate, without funnelling everyone through one door, creating queuing hazards. This pose analysis will help manage this digitally, thereby regulating store occupancy in a more efficient way, allowing for a seamless entrance and exit strategy.

This software can provide the data to create the following information:

  • Queue counting 
  • Unique identifiers to prevent double counting
  • Time-in-store analysis
  • Heat maps 
  • Time at checkout analysis
  • Staff detection
  • Forensic search by unique ID
  • Walk offs/basket abandonment

The technology is already being trialled by a major Spanish retailer with their incumbent cameras and security software, and is available to retailers globally. Store layouts will probably change in light of COVID-19, but until then, retailers need technology to be doing the heavy lifting and alerting to potential distancing breaches. Retailers can use this intelligence to help form store strategies moving forward, to enable a more sophisticated response, whilst also ensuring shoppers’ privacy.

Legal claims

Retailers know that slip, trip and fall is a burden to the balance sheet, with customers rightly or wrongly looking for compensation if they do take a tumble. However, this is an area video analytics can again prove its worth across the business. For starters, it can identify if the event happened, and should be the first port of call if legal proceedings are lodged. It can be used to prove if the event even occurred, or if someone is acting honestly or not. When the claims are genuine, it can also contribute towards trends analysis. It might be that slips and trips are disproportionately high in one area of the store, and that this needs further investigation as to why it’s a danger-zone. Leveraging these insights across the business can be used not only to increase profitability thanks to no duplication of effort, but also encourage cross-departmental problem sharing – enhancing communication and efficiencies.

What’s clear is that retailers can do more with their CCTV systems – they just need to be encouraged to think of it as a business intelligence application – not just a security deterrent. With proper management, it could help break down siloes, leading to better investment opportunities thanks to an improved return on investment. Vendors, installers and integrators have a fantastic opportunity to get closer to different departments if we can just encourage retailers to open their minds to the possibilities of video analytics. This close relationship will help us all get closer to end users and tailor solutions to help benefit that holy grail – the customer experience, leading to happy stakeholders along the supply chain. 

Protecting staff

Two thirds of UK shop workers have said they fear abuse from customers if they try to implement Covid-19-related regulations when non-essential shops reopen next week. New research by Reveal, which designs and manufactures body worn cameras for frontline workers, found that the growing threat of abusive customers has also left 60% of returning retail staff feeling anxious, stressed and frightened about going back to work. 

A number of major UK retailers have already raised concerns about the extent of aggression being experienced by their employees, with one business citing more than 1,000 violent incidents in the week face coverings were made compulsory in stores.

Three quarters of all shop workers who took part in Reveal’s study of 2,000 adults agreed there had been an increase in incidents of staff dealing with rude, abusive or violent shoppers since the pandemic began. More worryingly, two in three said that the fear of abuse or assault had resulted in them failing to implement Covid-19-related regulations in the last year. 

One third admitted that they had been too frightened or intimidated to ask shoppers to wear a mask or stick to social distancing guidelines on at least one occasion. Limiting the number of people in stores had also proved an issue for one in four shop workers. 

Overall, 63% of workers dealing directly with customers said they often felt unsafe as a result of having to deal with angry, aggressive or unpleasant shoppers. Half of all shop staff said they have had to take time off work after having to deal with an abusive customer. Only one in six said they were prepared to ignore the potential for conflict with customers and implement COVID safety measures.  

Supermarket worker Alison Chown from Huddersfield says that dealing with abuse from shoppers has become part of her job: “Everything causes conflict, from asking people to wear a mask to offering hand santiser when they enter the store. I get customers shouting and waving their arms at me when I ask them to keep to a safe distance. You shouldn’t be going to work dreading who you’re going to come across but it’s sad to say that this is part of the job at the moment. We know it’s going to happen.”

Alasdair Field, CEO of Reveal, said: “Far too many shop workers have been left feeling unsafe due to the growing threat of angry and abusive customers. This has only intensified since the pandemic began. Covid-19 has reminded employers everywhere of the duty of care they have to their teams. So whatever happens to people’s behaviour as we emerge from lockdown, it is time to take action to protect workers that serve the public, with new solutions that deescalate these kinds of situations before they occur, such as technology and training.”

Surveillance systems, video analytics and other types of cameras can be utilised for many different purposes to improve the efficiency and safety of retail environments. 

Commentary: Kevin Waterhouse, Managing Director, VCA

Life as we know it is different, but it’s about as normal as it’s going to get for the foreseeable future. Many sectors, including our own, have needed to make several adjustments to accommodate social distancing regulations which were previously unheard of – especially in crowded cities where personal space was a luxury forgotten in the second half of last century. 

However, the sector which has perhaps had to make the biggest changes is retail. From grocery to luxury, it’s all changed. Even at the busiest sales periods around Christmas and New Year, retailers never required customers to queue outside or manage their occupancy levels so stringently – it was just part and parcel of the calendar year. To help manage the change in circumstance, they have started to turn to security infrastructure to help automate procedures, thereby freeing up staff more. But the truth is, we can be doing more to demonstrate the value of video analytics, as this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

The problem is, retailers often view CCTV cameras as a necessary security deterrent. They’re there to try and stop bad actors, and catch them if they do commit a crime. The system is often managed by security teams and thought of in isolation. However, this really shouldn’t be the case. The fact of the matter is that footage from cameras can help retailers across all areas of their business – they just need to realise this and unlock the benefits.

Commentary: Josh Bunce, CEO and Founder of inurface Group

After an unprecedented and unpredictable year COVID-19 has proved a huge challenge for businesses. With the easing of restrictions and the reopening of many non-essential retailers, it’s a big step towards normality returning, an exciting transitional period but also a daunting one for all involved.

The reality, the past 12 months have been pivotal. We have seen the collapse of some of the longest serving and best-known brands. While COVID-19 may have accelerated these closures, they are more generally a reflection of our changing demands as a society and as consumers.

Businesses need to offer more, in a safe way, to encourage consumer engagement and spend. With alternative e-commerce retail offerings to bricks and mortar stores often able to offer increased convenience, a greater variety and a lower price brands need to be able to justify the costs of ground rent, staffing and the additional costs associated with in real life stores.

inurface have been working with a number of clients, both old and new, for months to ensure a smooth reopening. We are proud to have designed practical safety solutions to help ensure customers feel protected, as well as having created engaging and exciting destination stores. Augmented reality and interactive experiences, totems that highlight stores safety protocols, and engaging visuals on signage across stores all help to drive sales and increase brand loyalty.

The reality, we have one chance to get this right. Ineffective management could lead to both catastrophic impacts on COVID-19 levels and huge negative outcomes for individual stores, brands and the economy as a whole.”

 

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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, Security Portfolio

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922
Email: editor@securitybuyer.com

 

 

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