Over the past year, I have written a series of pieces looking at the various ways in which video technologies are now being utilized in retailing, offering insights on the benefits and opportunities they can bring and some of the challenges they present as well. As a technology, video is going through a transformative change in terms of capability, affordability, and acceptability. It is not that long ago that retailers were using their primarily analog closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems largely as a passive and symbolic comfort blanket—hoping it reassured, ideally deterred, and preferably had the capability to offer up ‘evidence’ when things went terribly wrong. Few could make the business case for continuous real-time monitoring and published evaluation research was at best mixed on its impact on the management of retail losses. It was therefore often viewed as a grudging necessity rather than a business opportunity.
Fast forward to today and we see a very different picture developing, driven largely through the opportunities offered by digitization, improvements in computer power, a significant reduction in the relative price of technologies, and major advancements in networking and accessibility. We now see retailers beginning to embrace a whole new video future, driven by its capability to offer advantages across the business, not only relating to its traditional focus points of safety and security, but also providing valuable ‘data’ for driving business profitability and enhancing customer service.
From Passive to Active
One of the significant changes has been its growing capability to become a much more ‘active’ business tool. As a seasoned loss prevention sage once said: “A camera on a wall is not going to leap down and stop a thief attacking a member of staff.” While this remains true, what we are now seeing are developments in video technologies that see them being deployed by retailers as a much more ‘active’ tool.
For instance, body-worn cameras (BWC) are now being used to try and de-escalate potentially violent confrontations. Another example is the use by centralized security centers of audio linked to store-based video systems to ‘confront/address’ offenders in real time. With the growth of self-checkout-related losses we are also seeing video analytics being deployed to actively interact with customers that may generate loss—automatically identifying non-scanning and subsequently ‘encouraging’ them to do the right thing.
Another example is the growing interest in utilizing video analytics to ‘identify’ suspicious behavior in retail stores, sending an alert to staff to enable them to respond, perhaps by giving ‘enhanced’ customer service. Away from security uses, some retailers are beginning to use their video systems to identify when a customer may need service, such as when they are waiting at a counter for help, or provide staff with alerts when shelves become empty.
These are just a few examples of a trend which is seeing retailers begin to recognize how video can be used differently, moving away from largely being a reactive and passive technology, to one that can be utilized in a much more proactive way.
From Security Guardian to Business Improvement Tool
As the examples above illustrate, while many of the developments in video capability remain rooted in concerns about managing safety and security, there is also growing recognition that it can provide value in other areas as well, including customer service, inventory accuracy, on-shelf availability, store design, and customer insights, to name but a few. In addition, retail businesses are embracing the opportunities enhanced networking can bring to improve business efficiencies, such as reducing maintenance and travel costs.
However, one of the challenges of getting the most out of an investment in this new generation of video technologies is ensuring that an organization-wide mindset is established, and focused on maximizing the value it can bring. Undoubtedly, issues of safety, security, and risk management will prevail as dominant drivers for investing in video, but retail businesses need to ensure that those tasked with its design and deployment have the vision and capability to reach out across the organization to ensure it becomes a valued resource for all those focused on driving business profitability.
If this is done, then the key question to be answered will increasingly switch from: ‘should we invest in video?’ to: ‘can we afford not to invest in video?’ These are exciting times in retailing, and it seems clear that video technologies will play an increasingly important role in its future development. Carpe Diem!
Video Watch is a monthly column written by Professor Adrian Beck sharing insights on the proactive use and impact of video technologies in retail. It reflects the latest research and monthly discussions of the Video Working Group of ECR Retail Loss, the leading global think tank on retail loss. The research commissioned by ECR Retail Loss is supported by independent research grants provided by Genetec and other leaders in retail loss prevention.