Milestone Systems look at optimising the shopping experience

Milestone Systems look at optimising the shopping experience

Louise Bou-Rached, Milestone System’s key account manager for the UAE looks at nine ways that video technology can help retailers optimise the shopping experience while adhering to the Coronavirus rules

During the Coronavirus crisis, the challenges for retailers are many: how do we comply with new regulations while serving our customers in the best way possible? How do we maintain a strong reputation and avoid losing revenue?

This article will highlight the challenges, suggest solutions and outline the possibilities of intelligent video technology for problem solving in these difficult times. After all, the same solutions that help you comply with the Coronavirus regulations can provide you with interesting insights into your customers’ buying behaviour both during and after the crisis.

While retailers in the Middle East were already navigating an increasingly competitive landscape, restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic has created significant changes in consumer behavior and consumption patterns. Shoppers are staying at home to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. Online shopping, which was low compared to other regions, is gaining traction and many shopping malls have been left half empty.The fear of a second and third wave is creating uncertainties for future household incomes, making price and value even more important drivers than before.

As we have seen, social distancing rules will remain an important part of the fight against the virus to prevent renewed waves of the infection. So, how can retailers adapt to this ‘new normal’, not only providing safety for their customers, but also optimising the sales and purchasing experience in a way that will make the buyers want to come back to the stores?

1. People counting:
Keeping track of the number of customers in your store is not easy, especially when you have large or complex spaces. It can happen all too quickly that your store is considered overcrowded under the new rules. In order to avoid this and not risk severe penalties, you should always know how many customers are currently in your store. Probably the most elegant solution is a real-time video analysis, which counts the people in the entire area or a part of it and automatically notifies you when the maximum number of people has been reached. You can set up appropriate measures in advance for this situation. This way, you can easily avoid overcrowding or excessive numbers.

When coronavirus regulations are eased, you can still use people counting to optimally adjust your staffing requirements to the customer volume or to record conversion rates. These show you, for example, how many of the people who have entered your store have also bought something. Furthermore, you will know exactly when customers entered your store with the help of people counting systems. Thanks to various evaluation options, you can create daily, weekly, or monthly reports, which makes it easy to identify trends or shortcomings that need to be addressed.

2. Access control: Limit the number of people in your store

You can regulate the number of customers in your store, not just by people counting, but also with video-based access control. You determine how many customers you let in at the entrance. Thanks to the video management system, which functions with a “one in, one out” policy, waiting customers are notified when they are allowed to enter in front of the store. This can be done with a “traffic light,” for example. With this technology, you prevent overcrowding without having to place an employee at the entrance. With a video management system, you free up your employees, ensure the accuracy of the numbers, and avoid additional personnel costs.

3. Door control: Close the door automatically when the maximum number of people is reached

Automated door control goes hand in hand with access control.This technology is attractive if you have automatic doors, because it allows you to control your doors from an integrated door control system. If the video management system detects that the allowed number of people in your store has been exceeded, either with people counting or access control, the automatic doors will no longer open for additional customers.
Only when enough people have left the store will the doors be unlocked, and others allowed to enter. This technology also relieves your employees of this task, as the entrances to your store do not have to be monitored.

4. Protective mask detection: Do not let anyone enter without a mask

Protective masks ensure the safety of employees and your customers. Video software can detect whether someone is wearing a protective mask or not. The intelligent technology of facial recognition lies behind it. If somebody enters your store without a mandatory face mask, the video management system notifies you and you can take immediate action. You decide whether your customers should then be reminded of the mask requirement by, for example, an employee or by an announcement or a visual cue.

After the coronavirus crisis, facial recognition technology can be used to collect valuable data for marketing purposes. For example, the age and gender of customers can be recorded. The site also helps you to identify regular customers or VIPs. If an incoming VIP is identified, staff can be notified immediately, so that your customer will receive the quality service he or she expects, which can be very useful for exclusive flagship stores.

5. Distance detection: Help your customers to keep their distance
You know how it goes. You’re shopping and you’re absorbed in looking at the products on the shelf and suddenly it happens. You’re standing right next to another customer. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem, but during a pandemic, it’s urgent you avoid it. But how can you prevent this situation in your store without affecting the customer experience? The answer lies in the help of an application based on video technology. It detects when people overstep the prescribed safe distance and immediately sets off an alarm. You can then remind your customers of the safe distance either by automated cues or personally by your staff. When safe distances are no longer required in retail, you can use distance detection to obtain information about customer density in your store. This information is important because a positive shopping experience is enhanced when customers can move freely in a store without being crowded.

6. Thermal maps (heat maps): Identify high traffic areas in your business
Do you know where in your salesrooms most of your customers are located? This knowledge is especially important in the current situation. It may help you to position your products in such a way that you can equalize highly frequented areas in your store and avoid crowds. An intelligent video management system helps you do this. Thermal maps, or so-called heat maps, are created from the footage supplied from your cameras. These show where customers especially tend to linger in your store over a period of time.How can this technology be used after the coronavirus crisis? By visualising the customer’s dwell time on certain products, you can identify hotspots in your store, determine the most effective routes, and identify which products are popular and which are not. With the help of this information, you can then strategically position your products more favourably.

7. One-way routes in the store: determine walking routes to avoid close contact

To avoid close contact or traffic jams in a limited space, you can guide your customers through your sales floor on defined “one-way routes”. However, these prescribed routes only make sense if your customers adhere to them. Modern video management systems detect when people are moving against the prescribed walking direction and can, for example, trigger an acoustic signal via the loudspeaker system to remind customers of the correct walking route. Use this technology even after the coronavirus crisis to identify which paths your customers choose. Analyse whether your products are well placed to be noticed or would be better positioned elsewhere.

8.Queue management: Prevent long lines
Long queues at the checkout or at displays can spoil your customers’ shopping experience, and they currently bring a high risk of infection. To prevent this, an intelligent video management system records the number of waiting customers and informs your staff in real time. This enables them to react to customer demand as quickly as possible and keep your cash registers running efficiently.
In addition, by continuously monitoring the cash registers, you can identify customer flows and can call in staff needed during the busiest spots in a timely manner, so you don’t keep your customers waiting. And not just now, but after the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

9. Automated cues: Automatically remind your customers of safety regulations
We have presented you with some options that can detect how many people are in your store, if they are wearing protective masks, and if they are keeping a safe distance. The detection of inappropriate behaviour requires a response.But you don’t have to take action yourself every time an alarm signal is triggered. You can program the intelligent video system to react automatically. You can send automated audio messages (loudspeaker announcements) or visual cues (via monitors or smart walls) in real time to remind your customers of the applicable regulations, without the need to take action yourself or by putting your customers in an unpleasant situation by addressing them personally.

The most profitable choice is not the system that merely solves the challenges of today, but also offers possibilities for the future. For example, a camera equipped with thermal technology costs more than a simple thermo scanner, but while the latter will no longer have reason to exist when the emergency is over, a thermal camera can be used for surveillance, facial recognition, people counting, video analysis, etc. In other words: for both protection and marketing.

As the corona pandemic has clearly demonstrated, it is impossible to predict what the future holds. This calls for an open and flexible platform offering the possibility of integrating any new technology that can be used to address future challenges. 

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