Archive for the ‘Retail solutions’ Category

A Smarter Way to Mind the Store: IP -Surveillance

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Introduction

In both retail operations and the retail sales floor, the competition is fierce and the profit margins are slim. To stay on top, retailers have to seize every advantage they can. This often means adopting the latest technological advances as they become available. That’s why today nearly every aspect of retail operations, from inventory to hiring, is computerized and networked. Now is the time to add video surveillance to the list.

IP (Internet Protocol) video surveillance gives retailers new tools and capabilities for improving loss prevention and store performance. By enabling video to be captured as digital information and accessed anywhere on an IP-based network, IP video surveillance allows your loss prevention staff and other departments to view, analyse and manage surveillance video. Built-in intelligence also enables cameras to automatically detect and alert staff to potential thefts, suspicious behaviour, and other events.

The advantages hardly stop there. This same intelligence opens the door to new in-store research methods for determining the effectiveness of store layout, display design, and employee behaviour. What’s more, through advantages in using common networking and digital camera technology, stores can achieve everything from a lower total cost of ownership to higher resolution imagery that improves forensic evidence and re purposing for training and other uses.

Where traditional (analog) video surveillance falls short
As both a deterrent and a source of evidence, video surveillance is recognized as an essential element to any retail operation’s loss prevention program.

How effectively used is this video?
Not very. Inventory shrinkage continues to be an expensive problem for the retail industry. More than 1.5 percent of total retail sales. This percentage changes little from year to year, yet as overall sales continue to grow, billions more dollars are added to the total amount of losses. If a company could reduce its percentage of losses from shrinkage by even a tenth of a percent across its stores, it would see a significant improvement to its bottom line.

A major weakness in loss prevention techniques today is the inability of analogue video equipment to detect criminal behaviour and alert personnel. Someone has to be constantly watching store monitors – or later search through hours of video to find a particular instance of theft. Poor video quality also hurts effectiveness. Analogue surveillance cameras are only capable of video resolutions equivalent to 0.4 megapixels, whereas the latest digital video surveillance cameras provide much higher resolution. Blurry, low resolution analogue images often fail to provide conclusive evidence in theft prosecutions or insurance fraud cases, such as bogus injury claims. Such images aren’t sharp enough to read license plate numbers, work poorly in training videos, and have no value for other uses, such as facial recognition systems.

What if:

  • That video was sharper and could alert you to a theft?
  • There was a way to tap the incredibly rich information in all this video for activities such as store design research?
  • You could use it as an operations management tool measuring how long it takes for an employee to help a customer waiting at a customer service kiosk?
  • You could do searches for organized crime behaviours and create training videos for employee showing these behaviours?
  • The video was so sharp you could see enough detail to read an employee badge number?

The answer is IP -Surveillance
IP-Surveillance brings all the advantages of network cameras and IP networking to video surveillance. Using digital cameras, it gives you sharper colour video, greater coverage, and better zooming capabilities. Incorporating video surveillance into your local area network (LAN) makes the video collected at every store available throughout your network. This means other departments can use store video capabilities for training, consumer behavior research, testing store layout and display design, and many other uses. What’s more, the cameras can be more “intelligent.” IP-Surveillance systems can actually “watch” for certain kinds of behaviour, events and actions. You no longer need people monitoring the monitors.

Here’s a look at five key advantages of IP-Surveillance:

Improving loss prevention
The programmable intelligence capabilities of IP-Surveillance and network cameras enable detection of suspicious behavior by customers or employees, reducing the need for dedicated loss prevention staff to monitor shoppers. In fact, smart network cameras may be more effective than staff. After 20 minutes or
so, the average person’s attention wanes watching monitors. A smart camera is always attentive. Intelligence at the camera level closes many gaps in loss prevention.

IP-Surveillance systems can be set up to:

  • Detect suspicious behaviours, such as a consumer taking multiple units of an item not normally bought in bulk, or a cashier deliberately not scanning a purchase.
  • Capture organized crime behaviours in a store and enable you to quickly communicate them to other stores in your chain.
  • Integrate video surveillance with electronic article systems (EAS) to ensure proper procedures are being followed, such as stopping customers who set off the alarm at the door.
  • Directly connect video with point-of-sale (POS) systems to uncover employee sweethearting (giving unauthorized discounts to friends) or other improper sales. For instance, video can be activated everytime an age-restricted sale is made or a refund given.

Delivering greater business value
Intelligent network cameras and the ability to store and access video on the network is driving many of the smartest retailers in the industry to investigate new uses of video surveillance to improve their bottom line. Some are working with the Loss Prevention Research Council in a program called StoreLab™ to co-develop and test innovative store layouts, work processes, and technologies to maximize sales, profit and productivity, while minimizing losses and crime. For one study, nearly a dozen stores of all different types (mass merchant, drug, home improvement, club, department, and speciality) are giving researchers access to their networks to test ways IP-Surveillance can be used to study consumer behaviour, employee tasking, and loss prevention.

IP-Surveillance is ideal for these applications because it can be set up to recognize certain actions and events, plus makes it easy to search thousands of hours of video to find the few minutes of footage that correspond to your search.

Some ways your company could use the video your store collects every day include:

  • Monitoring the number of customers entering and leaving and the length of checkout lines to provide alerts when more staff is needed.
  • Providing alerts when shelves need restocking, spills have occurred, aisles are obstructed, or checkout lines exceed guidelines.
  • Monitoring employee/customer interactions to improve service, detect gaps in training and management, spot and praise good behaviour, and identify employees avoiding customer contact or shirking other responsibilities.
  • Studying and improving store design, traffic flow, and point of purchase displays to improve sales and reduce shrinkage.
  • Developing training tools to teach employees everything from how to spot common shoplifting behaviours to ways to more effectively help customers.

Reducing total cost of ownership through IP -Surveillance advantages
For most retailers, nearly all important processes and operations are connected through a local area network (LAN). The exception is loss prevention. Legacy Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems are proprietary and typically have separate support and maintenance contracts. This precludes loss prevention from being able to leverage the lower infrastructural costs of the existing network and all the advantages of IP networking for video.

IP networking delivers cost savings in video surveillance in many ways.

  • Your company already has the necessary IT expertise. Network cameras have IP addresses just like any other network device and can be inexpensively installed anywhere in the network and controlled centrally via software. This enables you to leverage existing infrastructure such as servers, switches and cabling. Your video surveillance infrastructure simply becomes another part of the IT infrastructure, allowing you to take advantage of the cost savings of IP networking, as well as standard IT policies (such as authentication, data security, etc.).
  • IP-Surveillance systems use open standards and run on ordinary Ethernet networking. Using standard PC server hardware for video recording and storage rather than proprietary equipment such as Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) radically reduces management and equipment costs, particularly for large systems where storage and servers are a significant portion of the total solution cost.
  • Availability of powerful software management tools for monitoring, accessing and storing video. Software makes it easy to add additional powerful capabilities such as combining video evidence with time-lined POS transaction data or integrating video with cash register transaction data for advanced, flexible searching and analysis.
  • Easy, future-proof installations with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Installation can be done in stages, integrating your analogue CCTV system with your network video solution. As analogue cameras reach their end of life, you replace them with network cameras that simply plug into the network.
  • Greater archiving capabilities and storage reliability. Surveillance videos can be transferred through the network to off-site storage just like any other data and stored on standard servers.
  • Ability to scale capacity and performance. To provide support for multiple servers, sites and cameras, allowing your system to grow easily with your organization. Saving staff time through centralized management and remote accessibility

Part of the problem with analogue video is that it’s usually only available at the store. Each camera has a cable that feeds its video into a monitor and, unless you have a network video recorder, a local recording device. If someone in another store or headquarters wants to monitor what’s going on in a store or see a particular incident, the video has to be recorded and mailed.

By having cameras connected to a network, you can achieve a higher level of surveillance with less people. Loss prevention personnel can monitor many locations from one office. Live camera feeds can be accessed over the Internet from any location, making it easy to check out an alert or event from any computer, laptop or other device with a wired or wireless Internet connection.

Network camera advantages
While traditional analog cameras can only provide the equivalent of 0.4 megapixel resolution, network (digital) cameras can deliver up to 16 times greater resolution, cover a larger area, and provide superior digital zoom capabilities. This can translate into such rich detail as the numbers on a license plate or the name on an employee badge. Their progressive scanning (versus analogue interlaced scans) also produces better detail within a moving image such as a person running away.

Network cameras are also less expensive to install. They don’t even require a power outlet. Using Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, you can power a camera with same cable used for connecting it to the network. PoE also enables easier application of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to ensure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week operation.
Switching to network cameras is actually common sense. If you were going out to buy a camera right now for personal use, what would you get, analogue or digital? You would buy digital. It offers the greatest return on your investment and opens the door to all kinds of value-added features through connection to the rest of today’s digital world.

Other digital camera advantages include:

  • Intelligence at the camera level includes detection of motion, directional motion, abandoned objects, object removal, human presence, camera tampering, identification, and digital pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ).
  • Network cameras can be equipped with image buffers that save and send the images collected before and after an alarm occurred.
  • On a network, network cameras can be monitored, managed and updated just like any network

By David Slade – Davmark Ltd

IIT retail solutions – A retailer’s “eyes and ears”

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Retailers and intelligent building systems form a sweet partnership that proves productive and profitable.

Retailers are always looking for an edge. With margins tight, these companies seek solutions to help run their daily operations a little smoother, a little faster, and a little cheaper. IIT technology is increasingly becoming the solution retailers choose to maximize efficiency in a wide variety of business functions while enhancing the retail experience for both retailers and consumers.

To date, some retailers are using IIT to improve internal business processes, such as energy management systems that collect data from thermostats and provide realtime insight into energy consumption in a particular store. Other retailers have discovered IIT solutions that remotely monitor store equipment to maximize uptime, or that use RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in merchandise to automatically track inventory. But this is just the beginning. Today, a trend toward self service has led to the proliferation of the vending machine, a segment of retail ideally suited for IIT.

With the rise of input devices, sensors and machines comes a host of other challenges. One of the most pressing is the need to keep track of inventory without a person being constantly onsite. Retailers also want to make sure products are in stock, and they want to know immediately about any malfunctions or tampering with the goods and equipment. Many of these issues are being addressed through some form of remote monitoring systems. So understanding how to capture these sales is very critical to this emerging and yet, growing market.

Eliminating the guesswork
The cost to implement new technology can be worth it when IIT solutions make sure retail stores and distribution hubs are running at peak efficiency and that data collected are properly integrated into backoffice systems.

Helping monitor its stock, plant and provide a proactive service. This open-architecture solution permits realtime IIT management and two-way communication.

With secondary value added srevices including utilizing the Internet WAN/LAN connections to provide ancillary services such as credit card processing, advertising, machine configuration, and other emerging technologies.

All of this information is can be accessible to operators via the Web. By analyzing the information collected through the monitoring applications, staff able to maximize its route efficiencies and better manage plant and stock.

A retailer’s “eyes and ears”
This drive towards efficiency is what the retail industry is all about: getting a small investment to generate maximum returns. The whole trend toward self-service focuses on providing value and convenience. With incredible macrotrend right now towards consumers leading busy lifestyles and wanting more control over their purchase experience and over their lives.

It is possible to provide automated retail units that use LAN & wireless communications for monitoring and control. More than provide customers product information through interactive displays that mirror an online shopping experience. But unlike Internet shopping, customers can walk away with their selection immediately.

“Everything that happens there at the store is centrally monitored, so that we can automate any service to ensure the network is performing. Alerts are generated automatically if there’s any attention needed to the store network.”

IIT technology can make sure things are running smoothly, acting as a company’s eyes and ears at the mini-store locations. IIT can take the place of a store attendant, watching what people buy and how the store ais working, taking note of things that go wrong, and communicating all this information back to the retailer. By taking on this role, IIT technology provides a better business experience for both the retailer and the consumer.

Happy customers
While intelligent retail units are much more sophisticated than traditional retail stores. Retailers  can keep retail customers satisfied: lower costs.

Retailers can use IIT data to run their units and service routes more efficiently, and as a result, increase their margins against resource price increases. This way, customers continue to enjoy low prices. When retailers can quickly identify and resolve service issues, they achieve a higher level of satisfaction. When they have realtime visibility into what is sold, they can more accurately project inventory needs and reduce safety stocks.

Retailers can fill their shelves with the right amount of product at the right time, they can reduce their distribution and merchandising expenses. IIT does not reinvent the basics of good retailing, but it allows those principles to be applied with more precision and less lead time.
Furthermore, with the realtime and historical sales data obtained through IIT technology, customers are given more of the stock items they actually want.

The bottomline
All this directly affects vending retailers’ return-on-investment. After implementing IIT Retail solutions, stores normally reporting significant savings immediately.

Brand-new world
There is another point to be made about IIT retail solutions. Remote monitoring and control solutions create new options for retailers that have never before been feasible.
Understanding of what consumers want is one of the key benefits of IIT systems that will only become more important in the future. In addition to critical machine health information—such as malfunction and out-of-stock alerts—IIT can collect and transmit a wealth of data about consumers’ shopping habits.

IIT can monitor how consumers are responding to various products, categories, and presentations so that the retailer gets analytical model data and can work with our brand partners and constantly improve the consumer experience.
The next 10 years of IIT Retailing will bring significant innovations on how retailers manage that all-important consumer experience.

“When we accurately integrate how and why people shop with where and what they buy, retailers can achieve higher level of relevance for their core shopper,” “In addition, shelf-level sales data will allow retailers to achieve even higher levels of distribution efficiency.”

With benefits that go straight to the bottomline, IIT and the Retail industry will surely continue to change the face of retail.