There is a lot of talk in retail about the store of the future—when it will be here, what it will look like, and how it might influence customer interactions in ways both recognizable and not. The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the foundation of this future. And LP—as owner of the lion’s share of technology tools in a retail environment—has a big role to play in shaping it, according to Hedgie Bartol, business development manager, retail, for Axis Communications, Inc., a market leader in network video. “I absolutely think LP has a proactive role to play in taking advantage [of IoT],” said Bartol. “After all, who has more devices than LP?”
Bartol notes the ubiquity of network-connected devices today. Most people have them in their pockets in the form of smartphones and perhaps on their wrist in the form of network-enabled activity and fitness trackers. They’re in kitchens—refrigerators, ovens, and the like—and on walls in the form of smart energy systems. These devices used to be distinct, but they’re now similar in one basic way, explained Bartol. “They’re all built for a specific purpose, but they’re essentially all just computers.”
As such, the myriad devices at work in a retail store typically speak the same language. They have the ability to talk, influence, and instruct one another. “Nowadays, because the world is flat thanks to the use of common protocol languages, integration is much more achievable than in years past,” Bartol explained.
The ability to remotely monitor or extract information from networked store devices has been around for years, but that is not, strictly speaking, IoT. True IoT also requires a level of autonomy—the ability of sensors to recognize events or circumstances and take action without human direction or involvement. It is this capacity of devices to recognize and take action independently—the “if this, then that” decision making—that is at the heart of leveraging value from IoT and the operational efficiencies that it can deliver.
The ability of networked-connected sensors to talk to one another and take actions independent of human involvement is something that Bartol says retailers are just starting to exploit. “More and more systems and devices are connected to the network and use the same protocol, so why aren’t they talking to one another?” he asked, adding that there is tremendous opportunity for retailers to link LP tools with marketing functions. For example, a network surveillance camera can easily be used to recognize the characteristics of a shopper standing a near digital advertising display, such as the shopper’s gender and age. Immediately, the display can then show advertisements for store products that are most likely to appeal to that person. Or someone standing in one spot in a store aisle for more than one minute can trigger an alert to a store associate to provide help to that shopper—either by delivering much-needed customer service, or by averting a potential shoplifting event. Or upon an employee’s arrival and store alarm deactivation a series of actions could be triggered, clocking the person in, turning on lights appropriate for their credentials, starting the store’s music, turning on the break room’s coffee maker, and any other number of time-saving events.
Lighting, public address, access control, energy systems—all these sensors can be integrated, with only imagination limiting what, together, they can accomplish, according to Bartol. After-hours surveillance cameras can notice a crowd gathering outside and automatically instruct the PA system to warn the crowd to disperse or authorities will be called, for example. An acoustic sensor can identify a scream or a gunshot and trigger the surveillance system to send video of the scene to a store manager. A car loitering in a fire lane outside a store can trigger a pre-recorded loudspeaker instruction to move the vehicle. “Weaponized music” can start-up to disperse a crowd of loitering teens.
Bartol agrees with other industry experts that IoT, and connecting the myriad sensors that are now part of retail and LP ecosystems, can translate into tangible enhancements to retail security operations. “The opportunity is here to tie together devices and systems to support the LP mission and enhance business at the same time,” said Bartol. “We have the technology. It’s time for LP to think about what we can do with it.”
The End Game
Bartol advises loss prevention practitioners to think about how their existing LP tools, such as cameras and point-of-sale terminals, might be integrated with other systems to cut expenses, improve operational efficiency, provide business intelligence, enhance safety, reduce loss, and drive business.
Of course, envisioning the store of the future could seem misplaced when the future of stores seems so uncertain. But Bartol strongly believes in brick-and-mortar’s prospects. “Retail stores aren’t dying, they’re changing,” said Bartol. “If brick-and-mortar were dying, Amazon wouldn’t be opening physical stores. Alibaba wouldn’t have opened a five-floor mall near its headquarters.”
But retail stores do need to become something else, and provide consumers a reason for going to a store if they could more easily make a similar purchase online. Bartol thinks sensor integration and IoT will help stores deliver what online shopping can’t: a customer experience.
“The goal is really to provide customers with a feeling from a shopping experience that they can’t get someplace else, so it’s important for a store to analyze where the emotional touchpoints are with its customers,” explained Bartol. “The key is not to just focus on technology to enhance operations but ask how you can enhance the human connections for customers through the use of technology. How can you affect those emotional touchpoints?”
It’s surely a long way from shoplifting prevention. But it is also a key component to asset protection in the retail store of the future. “LP really is the linchpin in the process of transforming retail stores to meet new demands of consumers,” said Bartol.