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Camera Analytics: The Next Big Thing to Hit Retail in 2017

January 9, 2017

The new year has arrived, and for store owners, that often means customers arriving in large quantities (National Returns Day, anyone?). Getting traffic to your store is of course great for business, but still can cause its own headaches: the parking lot can overflow, customers unsure of what they want to purchase may cause traffic jams in aisles, and long queues at checkout are inevitable when the same staff can’t be in multiple places at once.

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But none of that will happen this time around. 2017 is going to be different.

With advances in camera analytics, stores are now able to do things like direct customers to empty parking spaces, keeping the lots at full capacity. This technology can also help with recognizing when customers are struggling to make a decision, and offering helpful nudges toward products on sale. And to top it off, there can be no queues for the overworked cashiers, because everyone can just walk out the store with their products already paid for.

This might seem like a farfetched customer experience, but it is becoming increasingly realistic through advances in camera analytics technology.

Let’s look at how that’s possible with some examples — from the moment you pull into the lot to the moment you check out.

Parking Lots

A series of cameras throughout the parking lot can recognize the licence plates of every visitor. The data allows the system to determine how frequently the customer visits and how long they usually stay. The lot can be split into zones, based on how long visitors are expected to stay, and so a parking spot can be suggested to each customer.

Face Recognition

As customers enter a store, the security cameras recognize their faces and are able to track their movements through the store. While initially installed to deter theft, they have since been upgraded to collect data, without compromising on their original purpose. Customers will also scan their smartphone as they enter, which allows the security system to match the face on record with the one in the store and confirms they are not an impostor. It then links their current shopping trip to their previous purchases, both in-person and online.

Intelligent Decision Making

The cameras continue to work while customers weave their way through the store and select items from the shelves. Individual watermarks on each of the products are identified by the cameras and added to digital shopping carts, which reflect the physical ones in your customer’s hands. When someone pauses for too long in one place, the store’s Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, Wi-Fi and the cameras all work together to determine if the customer is struggling to decide on a particular brand or product. The system can search for any relevant sales and direct them to those sales via their smartphone, which they scanned in upon entry.

Smart Checkout

As clients exit the store, they scan their smartphones on the way out, with the store’s app or loyalty card displayed on the screen. The system then checks their digital shopping cart and bills the credit card they provided when they set up the account.

IoT: Building Value Through a Connected World

All of this is entirely possible with technology that currently exists, and with some of the equipment that the stores already possess. They key is being able to utilize the equipment, combining the data that it will produce and creating your own Internet of Things (IoT).

By using cameras, Wi-Fi and BLE beacons, you can accurately measure store traffic to determine what items are drawing customers in, where they hesitate and what they ignore. This can be used to optimize the store layout, and possibly sold back to suppliers: big brands highly value such data about their products.

The Future of Analytics

3D cameras are also capable of monitoring stock levels, alerting staff when items are getting low, and potentially ordering more, allowing for more efficient inventory management.

And cameras are also invaluable as a defense against fraud and theft. By linking facial recognition to someone’s account, the system can quickly recognize if the person using the smartphone is the owner. Anyone found to be impersonating someone else — or committing ordinary theft — can have their face added to a database that will alert security whenever they are detected in a store.

With all of these developments, stores must still be mindful of their customers’ privacy. These services are an excellent way to improve the customer experience and increase profitability, but they must never feel like an invasion of personal space.

One way to address this is to make it a feature of visiting your stores; as part of the futuristic experience of being a customer there. If your store is always ahead of the curve, then getting that fresh experience will be something customers are okay with providing some in-store data for.

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