Why Do Retailers Invest in Video Technologies?

Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of blogs reviewing the ECR Retail Loss Group’s discussions and research focused on the use and impact of video technologies in the retail industry.

In 2020, the Group published a major study reviewing the development of video technologies in retailing, looking particularly at how and why it was being used, as well as the growth in video analytics. Since then, a working group has been established that meets virtually on a regular basis to discuss all things video (all retailers and their consumer product suppliers are free to attend), including sharing best practices, new innovations, evaluations and research. The working group consists of loss prevention, security, and IT leaders from more than 100 retailers operating in over 15 countries, but primarily in Europe and the US. This blog aims to keep you updated on their work.

What’s the Business Case for Video in Retail?

While retail has been one of the business sectors that has invested heavily in video technologies over an extended period of time, prior to the 2020 ECR Report, there was relatively little analysis published on why this was the case and to what purposes it was being used. For the most part, the technology has been regarded as a tool to help retail companies deliver their strategic desire to control crime and help provide a safe and secure environment for both employees and the customers visiting their stores.

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But how this was to be achieved through investment in video technologies has largely been wrapped in rather vague and aspirational goals, with little published evidence on its ability to actually meet them. Indeed, when respondents to the ECR research were asked the deceptively simple question: ‘What’s the primary objective of CCTV in your business?’ many struggled to offer a comprehensive response. As one respondent put it: ‘… to be honest, I’m not really sure what it’s for—from a theft perspective it’s pretty limited.’ For another it was regarded as a form of ‘security blanket’ or ‘insurance policy’ for when things go wrong—viewed as a sign of due diligence on the part of the business, but hard to measure if it was subject to a detailed Return on Investment (ROI) assessment.

However, what the 2020 research also revealed was that the number of use cases for video technologies in retail was already extensive and growing, especially as the move from analog to digital brought much more capability at more affordable prices, and networking capabilities became much more widespread. It also showed that while security and safety remain dominant drivers of the business case for investing in video, other more business-centric applications have emerged, such as enhancing customer service, helping to improve on shelf availability, and driving order accuracy.

How is It Being Used?

The ECR research was able to identify four distinct modes of use for video technologies in retailing:

  • Passive uses of video rely on its presence to generate some form of response or enable an activity to happen—deter thieves from committing a crime, encourage staff to comply with business procedures, and/or ensure businesses met legal requirements.
  • Reactive uses focus on the post hoc review of video data to enable undesirable events and players to be identified and/or business decisions to be informed and improved.
  • Active use is very much concerned with utilizing video systems in real time to instigate a response and/or identify miscreant behavior.
  • Proactive use is concerned with how video can be used to automate, speed up, and improve many of those activities currently undertaken through the reactive and active uses thus far.

Based on this framework, the research was then able to identify eight areas of activity that summarized the use of video technologies in retailing:

  • Delivering Deterrence: Raising credible concerns about the risk of detection should errant behavior be considered.
  • Undertaking Reviews: Carrying out post hoc reviews of recorded events for a range of purposes.
  • Carrying Out Monitoring: Viewing a range of events and activities in real time.
  • Ensuring Compliance: Enabling businesses to comply with legal requirements and encouraging employees to follow procedures.
  • Generating a Response: Delivering interventions based on discrete activations.
  • Informing and Enabling: Helping to generate better informed business decisions.
  • Providing Reassurance: Generating a sense of safety and reassurance through its visible presence.
  • Identifying, Detecting, and Alerting: Automatically identifying events that may warrant a human/system response.

Certainly to date, utilization models have largely been built on using video to Deter would be offenders, Reassure staff and customers about their safety, and Review events that have occurred in the past. However, the growing capability of video analytics is driving growing interest in the capability to automatically Identify and generate Alerts about events that may warrant a human/system intervention.

Future blogs will delve into many of these areas in greater detail, particularly as more and more retailers undertake trials and share their experiences through the ECR Retail Loss Working Group on the use of video technologies in retail. For further information about this Group, please visit the ECR Retail Loss Group website.


Adrian Beck
Adrian Beck

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 the ECR Retail Loss Group, the leading global think tank on retail loss. The research commissioned by the ECR group is supported by independent research grants provided by Genetec and other leaders in retail loss prevention.