Categories: Retail

Exclusive: Helping brick and mortar retailers bounce back


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Retail has proven its resilience, yet as it recovers from the pandemic, the sector faces multiple pressures, writes Jason Burrows, Sales Director, IDIS America.

As COVID-19 accelerated the move to e-commerce, brick and mortar locations took quite a hit. Many didn’t survive the fallout, leaving empty stores and real estate signs in their wake. Yet, as online shopping levels off, Coresight Research has reported that US retailers opened twice as many stores this year as they closed during 2021, signalling that brick and mortar is here to stay.

Like so many trying to shake the pandemic off their sandals, US retailers are in transformation mode. They’re putting a sharp focus on improving shopper loyalty through an enhanced customer experience.

And, increasingly, more retailers are embracing smarter technologies to streamline operations and cut losses. They’re not just tackling shrink head-on; they’re also eyeing other operating costs such as staff turnover and employee performance and are in a position to better integrate their online operations with brick and mortar stores. Affordable video technology has played a pivotal part in facilitating this transformation and providing retailers with powerful business intelligence tools.

Riding the wave of economic uncertainty

2022 has certainly come complete with rising inflation across the US, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over 40 years. People are protecting their pocketbooks, but brick and mortar stores are riding the wave, adapting to changing spending habits and continuously innovating to encourage consumers to return to in-person shopping. It’s where customers can see and feel their purchases, make more considered buying decisions and find the perfect outfit without ordering multiple sizes and dealing with the hassle of returns.

Many brick and mortar retailers are offering more flexible purchasing options, such as online ordering for in-store pick-up. They’re also working to ramp up customer loyalty by focusing heavily on a better customer experience and increasing convenience by keeping stores open later.

With the help of video tech capabilities, they’re also investing in new and innovative ways to better protect staff and improve working conditions, boost efficiency and reduce losses. Indeed, the latest generation of video solutions is delivering compelling benefits to help retailers beef up their bottom line, regain resilience and help them continue to evolve more competitively.

Shrinking retail shrink

Shrink continues to plague retailers, as the results of a 2021 National Retailer Federation (NRF) survey attests. It reports that losses from shrink factors stayed static compared to 2019 despite pandemic store closures, with few retailers keeping inventory losses below 0.5%.

Loss prevention managers contend with a growing array of shrink challenges ranging from internal theft, return/gift card fraud and deceptive self-scanning to organised crime and shoplifting as well as false injury claims. The urgent need for retailers and their systems integration partners and manufacturers to collaborate to identify the highest direct cost to the bottom line, and target the problem strategically, has never been clearer. Surveillance pilots are revealing gaps in security and unforeseen vulnerabilities. That’s because the latest video solutions have been refined to precisely target these problems.

There is now a wide range of camera choices available, not only to tackle shrink, but to blend-in with the aesthetics of every outlet, providing exceptional real time view and recording, thanks to features including on-board failover, active tampering alarms, WDR and IR.

Panoramic and fisheye are popular models as they enable complete coverage of shop floors, showrooms and aisles. Stores free of blind-spots make it easier to identify and tackle shrink and theft, investigate incidents, and see activity occurring right to the periphery of every scene. Discreet mini-domes and bullets are also proving effective in keeping a watchful eye on high-value items, cash desks, returns counters and stock rooms, deterring shrink, sweethearting and fraud. Traditional fixed lens, PTZs and license plate capture cameras placed at entrances, exits and parking areas are also ideal for deterring crime, increasing protection and enabling car parking management and intelligence gathering.

Thanks to integration with data from barcode scans and point of sale systems, loss prevention managers can pinpoint suspicious transactions, while metadata cuts down the time it takes to find footage of interest from hours to minutes.

Countering violence with video

We live in tumultuous times. In addition to an uptick in verbal and physical assaults on store workers, there’s also been a troubling rise inactive shooter incidents. NRF’s 2021 National Retail Security Survey showed that 82% of the loss prevention professionals surveyed believed that active shooter incidents are more likely to occur than five years ago – ranking as the most pressing threat facing retail organisations.

Innovations in video tech are answering the call with practical solutions. High-definition cameras and AI-powered analytics provide earlier warning of potential threats, including: Auto-tracking of persons of interest; identification of concealed weapons; alerts to suspicious loitering virtual line cross and more.

There should be no place in retail for abuse and violence against staff. Unless tackled, the sector will continue to struggle with recruitment and staff attrition, significantly impacting the bottom line. By installing high-definition cameras, faces can be clearly identified with watermarking technology, providing evidence integrity which, along with public display monitors, optimises the deterrent value of surveillance and gives staff the assurance that perpetrators can and will be prosecuted. 

Analytics-driven tools such as queue and overcrowding monitoring also enable security staff to configure alerts or issue verbal advice, which reduces the need for staff to intervene and avoid confrontations.

The value of affordable ai-powered video analytics

Easy-to-use, AI-powered analytics are providing business intelligence and helping brick and mortar retailers adjust their stores to better accommodate customer buying habits and stay competitive.

As many small-to-medium size stores re-establish themselves post-pandemic, they find it welcome news that analytics no longer need dedicated cameras but can, instead, leverage existing ones. Reporting tools give head offices and branch managers the intelligence they need, while store managers and their staff are empowered with real time, at-a-glance dashboards. This makes it easy for local and senior teams to generate reports and understand day-to-day activity as well as seasonal trends.

Real time queue monitoring means staff can be more quickly deployed to where they are most needed, such as checkouts, returns desks and pick-up counters. Heat mapping reveals dwell time and shows how shoppers move around stores, giving managers actionable data to revamp layouts, re-position displays or add areas where customers can better interact with goods. The same tools can highlight patterns of where areas frequently become overcrowded in a way that might detract from the shopping experience.

There’s good news for retailers with larger budgets and those ready to upgrade too – the processors inside edge AI cameras are now powerful enough to run analytics locally, while still encoding and streaming without the need or cost of upgrading software.

Reliable and affordable storage

Once retailers are ready to upgrade to edge cameras, they will deliver faster insights and better security while overcoming bandwidth constraints and storage burdens. Increasingly, more regulations require footage to be stored for extended periods – typically 30-90 days, although requirements vary. Consequently, retailers are seeking the most practical and affordable compliance options.

Not every store, even within the same retail chain, has access to high internet speeds. Some share bandwidths with other mall tenants, which can easily overload networks, making a separate VLAN and NVR-based approach a popular and affordable option. Robust NVRs are popular for hard-working and often dusty retail environments and compact models are ideal for smaller stores with confined space. Built-in PoE switches eliminate the need for additional hardware and offer the most efficient cabling method.

Today’s NVRs benefit from advanced compression technology and H.265, which can save retailers up to 70% on storage and bandwidth compared with older H.264 systems. With simultaneous live, record, playback, backup and remote operation, they’ve earned their place as the most cost-effective foundation for any scale of retail surveillance operation.

Compliance is key

It’s good sense for retailers to plan for compliance rules being tightened, even where regulations do not yet exist. NDAA compliance – while only legally enforceable for US retailers that form part of federal supply chains or receive federal loans – is influencing standards for brands across the sector.

The likelihood that tighter cybersecurity standards will also be introduced more widely means that it is vital to choose equipment with a high degree of assurance against hacking. Moreover, multi-layered protection of stored and transmitted data and multi-factor authentication for many retailers is vital, while mutual authentication of devices and one-click configuration also helps eliminate common cyber loopholes. 

Look to the future

While it’s important to choose video that can address today’s security challenges, it should also be scalable to meet future challenges. Retailers will be best served by VMS which gives them future-proofing through unlimited scalability, flexibility and forward compatibility as well as partnerships with vendors committed to extended technology portfolios and forward-thinking product roadmaps.

Retailers and integration partners should look towards video solutions designed to help retailers weather the tough times and reduce costs, enhance customer experiences, increase operational efficiency and generate more revenue, while ensuring they can continue to adapt and evolve.

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This article was originally published in the August edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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