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How Video Analytics Can Optimize the Future of Brick-and-Mortar

Modern retail consumers have become increasingly challenging to attract, while the retail industry itself has become incredibly competitive on various fronts. Physical retail stores, online super stores, and omnichannel chains all continue the struggle to improve or maintain their margins. Brick-and-mortar stores in particular are under the most pressure to deliver within this new retail ecosystem.

Toward this goal, brick-and-mortar retailers are increasingly turning to video technology to assist the few staff available and utilize technological innovations to improve the in-store experience. One area offering great promise is the advent of data-driven video technology to optimize a minimally staffed but highly managed customer-oriented experience.

According to research by Retail Dive, physical stores remain the most important touchpoint for customers. Brick-and-mortar stores have many tangible advantages. Customers can interactively experience the product, quickly compare it to other options, then purchase and take home the item immediately. These advantages, however, come with margin-eroding costs for the retailer. On-site inventory and sample units are expensive. The cost of rent, insurance, utilities, and facilities are increasing. Together they add up to the store’s largest expenses.

Preserving the Customer Experience

Beyond the traditional functions of safety, security, and loss prevention, video technology now offers an increasing array of new capabilities that are helping retailers positively impact their business outcomes. For some time now, video data has been used to discover in-store traffic patterns in the form of heat maps with an eye toward optimizing product placement and endcap performance. More recently, we see video analytics being used to help manage everything from staffing to inventory, parking lots, and general maintenance needs. But a store’s video surveillance system still holds a wealth of hidden potential just waiting to be tapped into.

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Store managers are continuously looking for ways to optimize their operations, inventory, and staff without negatively impacting customer satisfaction or brand loyalty. For example, many stores have already been moving toward self-checkout systems, and as staffing shortages are now touching other departments as well, video technology will become increasing crucial for the security, maintenance, customer service, and stock activities.

A recent Research in Action study from the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) reports that different forms of artificial intelligence (AI), including data management and data-driven video, are becoming a critical part of brick-and-mortar innovation. The report stated that retailers today need much better operational feedback, and they need it fast. Managers need relevant, reliable, real-time decision support in reduced-staff store environments. A data-driven video management system (VMS) using video analytic software can provide that support.

Video analytics, also known as video content analysis or data-driven video intelligence, uses AI-based software to analyze both real-time and recorded video, extracting actionable insights. The modern VMS serves as the central unifying platform which brings a variety of disparate information together for the purpose of extracting the contextual information humans need to make the best decisions, quickly.

Actionable, Automated Assistance

While many believe the role of video analytics is to make decisions for humans, the reality is actually the opposite. Analytics simply analyze the vast streams of data, ever looking for anomalies that may be indicative of a process, activity, or situation that is heading in the wrong direction. Once detected, an automated response is rarely acceptable, and instead, the software should connect with a human being for final evaluation and potential action. The actual use cases are vast and might include watching shelves for low-stock or out-of-place items, abandoned carts, dirty aisles, spills, and many other situations that would detract from the customer experience or the store’s optimal performance.

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Video analytic solutions are most effective when combined with other security technologies, bringing together video, audio, and a variety of complementary data for greater context and evaluation capabilities. A modern data-driven VMS is designed to connect and bring together all video and audio devices, along with access control, people counting, point-of-sale, alarm, fire, and IoT-type devices detecting everything from air quality to freezer temperatures.

In fact, the conditions able to be monitored in a store may include an employee smoking by the dock, vagrants loitering near the front, customers appearing lost in the aisles, or even checkout lines beyond a defined threshold, each one potentially initiating a response from staff. Fire or smoke, liquids spilled on the floor, objects left behind, or someone lying on the ground are all important events needing a response—the reality is that anything out of the ordinary can become an exception.

Many other conditions can be detected that could indicate an imminent or evolving threat that may initiate a higher level of defensive response. Someone walking against the normal traffic flow, running, exhibiting exaggerated movements, or even the visual of a gun being carried are detectable events. Similarly, audio sensors can detect specific noise signatures that might indicate arguing, violent behavior, cries for help, glass breaking, or gunshots. Air quality sensors can detect smoking and vaping in bathrooms or other restricted areas. Air sensors can also detect carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases and even off-gassing from spilled volatile compounds from materials such as cleaning fluids, disinfectants, paints, and varnishes.

The exciting reality is that the types of conditions being detected by the video management system are nearly unlimited and dependent on the needs of the organization.

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The criteria for choosing an open platform VMS are important because the technology driving the needed solutions comes from many different sources, including private research think tanks and shared government research and technology. A modern data-driven VMS must provide open and unrestricted APIs and SDK to allow users to capitalize on wildly evolving technologies. Waiting for a single manufacturer to deliver all known capabilities is unrealistic in today’s modern and distributed world. An open VMS supporting a plug-in architecture allows the user to plug in thousands of different types of technologies from different companies almost as quickly as they are released to the market.

Doing More with Less

As brick-and-mortar stores continue to serve increasingly discriminating customers with fewer employees and amenities, it becomes imperative that leaders use modern technology to help augment operations and experience. Without this newfound reliance on technology and innovation, stores quickly devolve into cluttered and unorganized experiences that significantly diminish the customer experience. If shelves are unstocked, aisles and public areas messy and disorganized, or register lines are too long, customers will find alternatives.

An open platform, data-driven VMS brings together all the analytics, cameras, and other sensors and decides what’s important and who is responsible, and gets that information to the correct person immediately so they can take action. Using technology to constantly and consistently monitor the overall operational effectiveness with appropriate and timely responses is not only exciting and rewarding, but it’s now nearly a requirement for brick-and-mortar stores wishing to adapt and thrive in the modern marketplace.

Data-driven video technology systems tirelessly evaluate and process enormous amounts of information to uncover the salient points that need human evaluation and action. These smart tools are helping store managers understand what’s impacting their organization, the customer experience, and their bottom line.

Dave Nieweg

Dave Nieweg has been at Milestone Systems for nearly six years. Previously, he worked in an outside sales role covering the Rocky Mountain territory. More recently, he is leading the Americas Community and Business Development teams as their Community Program Manager. Dave has spent most of his career in the video surveillance and physical security industry in a wide variety of sales, marketing, and product development roles.

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