An eye on efficiency

An eye on efficiency

The region’s retailers may currently be under less pressure than their counterparts in Europe and America, but they still need video solutions to help them worker harder and smarter, writes Dennis Choi, General Manager, IDIS Middle East & Africa.

With increased oil revenues insulating GCC economies from many of the pressures challenging America, Europe, and the West – the IMF expects inflation in the Gulf to peak at just 3.1% this year – the region’s retail sector remains fast-moving and competitive. But while consumer spending may be under less pressure here, retailers are still having to work harder and be smarter.

One result is that business in the sector typically look for ROI more quickly than other users, often aiming for surveillance investments that deliver pay-back within months not years. This is the case whether we look at small shops or major chains, supermarkets, or shopping malls; it’s also the case in the closely related eating out sector.

Wrapping up a rapid ROI

The ambition for value payback, something that all these businesses share, is increasingly realistic. Savings today come not just from reduced shrinkage and lower losses from fraudulent activity, but from operational efficiency gains, lower insurance premiums, and increasingly from using smart business intelligence tools that improve the performance of individual stores and help integration with online operations.

Market conditions may change but the key challenges do not. The imperative to cut shrinkage and fraud is the starting point for most retail security systems that we get involved in. Compliance and insurance requirements also continue to drive surveillance investment in sectors such as retail banking and high-value luxury retail, and increasingly we see larger retailers, as well as malls, focused on ensuring customer safety, security, and convenience.

Loss prevention managers are taking advantage of the fact that video surveillance has become an increasingly efficient tool. Partial store coverage – a compromise that planners previously had to live with – is being superseded by comprehensive image capture across all areas using a new generation of powerful but affordable UHD fisheye cameras.

More discrete, specialist cameras including micro-domes and pinhole models are in demand in jewellery stores, luxury fashion, and other locations where protection of high value items needs to be balanced against the need for upscale store aesthetics. In these situations, cameras which can ensure uninterrupted surveillance of events, without being overt, are at a premium.

Tackling time issues

At the same time, previously limited, costly storage can now be affordably upgraded to extended retention periods, ensuring compliance where it applies, allowing effective investigations months after an incident, and underpinning business data gathering.

As customers continue to shift to contactless payments, and stores allow contactless refunds, banks require extended retention periods for point-of-sale camera footage. Fraud can be complex and suspicious activity can take months to become apparent, and today there is much greater chance that footage from stores will be available for investigators.

HD surveillance gives the ability to zoom in on point-of-sale activity to identify fraudulent incidents, including returns fraud, ‘sweet-hearting’ and other forms of theft centred around check-outs. Evidence of this activity needs to be easily retrieved from client software as well as mobile apps and tablets, and importantly kept available for extended periods. One very practical tech development worth highlighting here is the fact that the best of today’s surveillance systems use H.265 along with additional, highly effective codecs to significantly reduce the storage and bandwidth burden for users. Another important trend is easier and more seamless correlation between video footage and point-of-sale data, which allows investigators to search footage more quickly by targeting transactions of interest.

Turning browsing into purchasing

While the primary purpose of the cameras may be to detect and deter criminal activity, retailers are targeting wider benefits as they look to drive more efficient store operations. Heatmapping data that’s gathered and stored over time, as well as people counting, queue management and related functions that are helping retailers and store managers better understand customer flow patterns, and seasonal trends are growing in demand. In practice, this is allowing store layouts to be analysed and providing insight into customer behaviour without infringing on privacy.

Camera systems boosted by AI-analytics are making it easier for managers to generate branch-by-branch reports, and to access better intelligence around trading activity, staffing efficiency and individual store performance.

This information is valued by retailers because it can help them to improve customer ROX (Return-on-Experience) and to convert browsing into purchases. In practical terms, AI-assisted, automated monitoring and notifications are helping to reduce waiting times for customers at check-outs, click-and-collect desks, and fitting rooms, and to direct staff more quickly to where they are needed in the moment. They are driving efficiency by allowing staffing levels to be optimised. And for operations with multiple branches, they are helping to ensure consistency of service and staff performance. This aligns well in countries such as the UAE where exemplary service is expected across the aviation, hospitality, and retail sectors.

Driving change

Larger retailers and mall operators also know that the customer’s opinion can be shaped before their shopping experience even begins, with parking. Customers want to feel safe and comfortable leaving their cars and personal belongings. Surveillance deters theft and vandalism, empowers quick response and, if an incident occurs, it preserves vital evidence. And with proactive monitoring or AI functionality, operators can use pre-recorded audio or PA systems to alert drivers to violations, warn against suspicious activity and so on.

Better use is being made of AI-powered parking solutions that capture license plates and automate barrier entry, with integration into payment systems. Multi-directional camera units with LED lighting can signal free spaces; payment is smooth and can be app-connected; and cameras can help drivers locate their vehicles in large and busy parking facilities, reducing stresses at exit. This mix of tech eliminates the frustration and friction often associated with parking, contributing to a better first and last impression. At the same time, parking operators and malls benefit from more accurate payments, with fewer customer disputes thanks to video audit trails, and better insight into vehicle flow and occupancy management.

Centralised oversight with local control

Video management software is improving oversight for central management teams too. Retailers can have visibility over all their store locations regardless of geographic dispersal, while still allowing localised control by branch managers at each store. One result of this federated architecture is that costs are reduced – with less need for loss prevention teams to attend sites in person – while productivity is increased thanks to greater autonomy being given to trusted local managers.

The benefits of improved control extend beyond the stores themselves, into the now crucial area of logistics. With the rise of e-commerce and hybrid retail models, businesses increasingly need to be able to ensure stock availability and next day delivery.

Again, video has an important role to play, for example providing visual package audit trails through the entire delivery chain right up to the point of customer receipt, reducing the risk of fraud, losses, and inefficiencies, and underpinning development strategies.

Continuing improvements in analytics are also proving to be essential to a new generation of more complex, faster-moving retail businesses. HD video surveillance is providing the foundation infrastructure for their evolving operations.

The retail sector is particularly varied, and in it we see the widest spectrum of challenges and priorities at play: the need for value and rapid ROI; the requirement for rapid upgrades with minimal down-time; a demand for practical, easy-to-use surveillance solutions; but at the same time an appetite for more sophisticated, centralised control, plus AI-enabled tools to help bricks-and-mortar adapt and compete.

These needs are being met thanks to the advances in VMS, storage solutions and analytics which are driving ever better value from the growing range of high performance, specialist, and NDAA-compliant cameras.