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How retailers are using video data to make stores safer, more profitable during pandemic

Stephanie Weagle, BriefCam CMO, shares insight on the power of video surveillance today and after the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a worry.

The brick-and-mortar retail sector has obviously been hit hard by the pandemic, given the partial lockdowns that have drastically reduced — or, in some cases, eliminated — foot traffic for weeks or months at a time. With the recent arrival of COVID vaccines, one can see a dim light at the end of the tunnel; however, the pandemic, along with health restrictions and economic malaise, are likely to last at least several more months.

For many stores this means finding ways to comply with health and safety mandates — such as, social distancing, and store occupancy limits — to protect associates and customers from COVID. At the same time, to attract new and old customers, retail stores must continue to do what they have always done: find ways to enhance the customer experience, stimulate shopper retention, and increase sales.

Smart retailers that are looking to technology solutions to help them comply with pandemic health mandates many be pleasantly surprised to find that some of these solutions can also be leveraged to improve customer satisfaction, prevent inventory loss, and drive revenue in the present and beyond the pandemic.

Most retailers typically deploy video surveillance networks for physical security; however, many have yet to realize that valuable data lies dormant in this footage — useful not only to security teams, but also merchandising, marketing, and even operations departments. Video analytics is the key that unlocks that data. Powered by deep learning and artificial intelligence, video analytics software extracts, identifies, classifies, and indexes valuable video metadata, to make it searchable, actionable, and quantifiable. This technology enables operators to quickly and accurately review footage; configure real-time alerts to proactively respond to developing situations; and uncover trends by analyzing aggregated video data.

Ensure compliance with health and occupancy rules

An example application of video analysis functionality is social distancing identification. Video analytics software empowers operations managers to monitor compliance over time and trigger real-time alerts when distancing regulations are violated through identifying the proximity between individuals in an environment. In turn, providing the valuable insights needed to optimize store layouts to allow for greater distance between individuals. The same is true of occupancy limits. By using people-counting and line-crossing video analytics and configuring alerts based on these factors, managers can receive notifications when occupancy thresholds will be or have been exceeded.

Beyond COVID response, these capabilities are useful for notifying managers when crowds or long queues start forming, so that associates can be deployed to help alleviate traffic. For planning purposes, managers can prevent crowding hotspots by evaluating aggregated historic data and making strategic decisions about staffing and space utilization based on foot traffic and crowding data.

Accelerate contact tracing and disinfection practices

With video analytics, retailers have the unique opportunity to proactively break the chain of virus transmission within their organization through contact tracing of COVID-infected employees. Leveraging video analysis, including face recognition or appearance similarity filters, operators can track an infected associate's movements and interactions in the workplace. These combined with proximity identification and face mask filters can help pinpoint whether other associates are at risk. While protecting the privacy of infected individuals managers can notify and recommend self-quarantine to any persons that have come into contact with the infected individual.

Video analytics can elevate the already high standards for cleanliness and help maintenance teams maximize cleaning efforts based on actual facility usage, rather than a time-based schedule. Both through aggregated reports about footfall data and real-time alerts based on custom visitor limits to areas such as a restroom, a food court, or a changing table, operations managers can understand when and where maintenance is most needed to proactively clean highly trafficked areas.

Enhance layout and targeted customer experiences

Understanding customer traffic patterns — as well as bottleneck hotspots — is equally important for operations, experience, marketing and merchandising managers. Through dashboards and heatmaps that illustrate footfall, interactions and dwell times, different stakeholders can easily analyze how visitors navigate a store and the displays and products that catch their attention, and anonymously recognize individuals in a store — identifying and excluding associates and staff — to generate unique traffic insights about bounced and return visits to the store or areas of it.

Important considerations for retail video analysis

As with any technology implementation, retailers should perform due diligence before selecting a video analytics solution to meet their long and short-term needs. Important considerations include the resolution quality of existing video cameras,s as well as the volumes of video that will have to be processed daily. Retailers should also take note whether a video analytics reporting can integrate with other key data sources, such as point of sale, time management, and access control systems.

In-store video analysis transforms video surveillance into actionable retail business intelligence that benefits multiple stakeholders. The technology has versatile applications for driving increased sales and profits, and higher customer retention – during and after COVID-19.

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