How video surveillance can create better customer experiences

By Norman Rozenberg

Editor’s Note: In the version of this article that was published May 26, 2015, Power More incorrectly attributed a passage on opting out of video surveillance to Karen Levy, a postdoctoral researcher at the NYU School of Law’s Information Law Institute. The passage in paragraph 16 was paraphrased by the reporter and was not directly attributable to Levy. We have removed the erroneous attribution and added additional quoted material from Levy for necessary context.    

Retailers have used video surveillance in stores for decades to catch shoplifters, but now advances in camera technology and cloud computing are presenting new marketing opportunities. 

Analytics software for cameras can compile reports that inform retailers where customers are spending the most time in the store and which products they’re looking at, allowing companies to provide more targeted advertisements to customers on digital signs.

In the past, storeowners were wary about the high costs of cameras and having employees devote hours to monitoring video footage for the sake of examining customer habits.

But today, analytics platforms do the work for retailers.

“Video surveillance for analytics offers enormous potential and multiple mainstream applications, because retailers are starting to really look at their stores, analyzing shopping habits, improving employee engagement, and maximizing each store’s potential,” said Hedgie Bartol, retail and business development manager for Axis Communications, a developer in the network camera space.

Getting to know your customer

Video surveillance helps retailers gain a deeper understanding of customers to better optimize space and offer a better shopping experience. By looking at where customers are spending time in the store, employees are better prepared to assist customers in real-time.

Overall, these systems improve employee productivity and the customer experience.

“We can count customers, provide heat maps of where customers spend their time, provide customer demographics information (age, gender), ad monitoring statistics, store conversion rates based on transaction and customer count numbers, and much more,” said John Sepassi, senior sales manager for IntelliVision, a firm that designs analytics software for cameras.

Analytics systems’ trend reports can be revealing. If there is a daily early afternoon rush, for example, storeowners will be able to staff more effectively and know when to open more registers. This saves consumers time and better allocates store resources.

If a store has digital signage, video surveillance systems can determine how much of an impression an advertisement has on customers. If an ad isn’t very eye-catching to a passerby, a retailer can switch it out for another right away, according to Bartol.

A number of tech companies have partnered to create end-to-end solutions for these systems, including Salient Systems and Axis Communications, which married cloud computing and surveillance cameras thanks to Dell OEM Solutions. The system’s CompleteView Cloud, powered by Dell OEM Solutions, is a secure solution that simplifies the deployment and integration of video surveillance, delivers a flexible solution for growth and expansion and meets the needs for companies to control costs without jeopardizing quality. The flexibility of cloud-based services allows for video recording availability anywhere, on desktop, notebook and mobile smartphone devices.

Through the Dell OEM Solutions Partners Ecosystem, Dell builds in partners’ technologies from the chip level to the operating system to enable OEMs to accelerate time-to-market with intelligent systems and reduce the costs associated with product development and engineering. Dell OEM Solutions gives customers increased platform stability, visibility into product roadmap updates and advanced warranty for easier implementations of solution updates. In addition, Dell OEM has optimized the entire development lifecycle of Intel architecture-based products.

Despite the myriad benefits of these kinds of technologies, some consumers fear that video surveillance infringes on their privacy a bit too much.

Can businesses know too much?

One of the biggest concerns consumers have is the inability to opt out of being recorded. These advanced cameras have the ability to recognize individual customers’ faces and track where they are at all times in the store. And then what happens to this high-level data once consumers leave the store?

“One thing that’s always a concern is how consumer expectations do or don’t line up with business practices around data use,” said Karen Levy, a postdoctoral researcher at NYU School of Law’s Information Law Institute.

To avoid losing customers, businesses can consider opt-out notices or posting signs that indicate that cameras are rolling.

However, Levy notes, “Nobody reads these and they don’t meaningfully respect privacy.”

Ethical questions are raised such as, “Is consent implied if the business posts a sign informing customers of cameras?” and “Should customers have the right to choose explicitly whether they want to be recorded?”

Regardless, businesses need to find a balance between respecting customer privacy and collecting data to improve marketing.

Data analysis companies such as Axis and IntelliVision maintain that individuals on camera are anonymized for the most part. What is being collected is overall customer demographics, time spent in certain areas of the store and foot traffic. Additionally, these companies say the data is presented in graphs and tables and that it’s not possible for a storeowner to find out an individual shopper’s habits. This could allay some fears.

The improved retail experience and customized marketing campaigns may be a huge draw for businesses, saving both consumers and storeowners valuable time and money in the long run.

“Video is a form of data that has historically only been analyzed by humans,” Sepassi said. “Now that there is viable and accurate technology in the market that can make use of this form of data and calculate valuable information from it, businesses are seeing the benefits.”

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