Fact or fiction? Were there actually more people at President Trump’s inauguration on 20 January 2017 than ever before, or weren’t there? Despite being hotly debated on various social media channels, how will we ever really know?

A recent article, referenced crowd counters making use of a variety of methods to determine the numbers, from a single aerial photograph through to actual ‘head counting’. Yet, how reliable is this when the same method used during the 2009 inauguration estimated 1.1m in attendance with another source placing the number closer to 1.9m.

“Reliable people-counting involves the use of sophisticated (static) camera surveillance, able to gather data over a period,” says Roy Alves, Business Development Manager, MEA, Axis Communications. While it is not possible to deploy during the likes of a Presidential inauguration (closed air space), retailers the world over are benefitting from this increased intelligence, significantly upping return on surveillance investment.

“There is growing interest by retailers to make use of network video surveillance for reasons other than traditional safety and security requirements,” says Alves. Whilst safety and security of all retail outlets remains an essential focus, what is becoming as important is the ability to quickly and accurately measure a store’s performance, based on reliable data. Recent years has seen retail become increasingly cut throat and competitive. Times are tough, and finances are tighter. One can no longer simply rely on brand loyalty. The need to ‘stretch one’s buck’ as far as possible is a reality felt by both consumer and retailer alike.

From the evaluation of product displays and instore promotions, through to optimising every single metre of floor space, and increasing operational efficiencies, the ability to evaluate one’s customer base while instore and respond timeously, is providing retailers with a much-needed competitive differentiator.

“Most customers’ purchasing decisions are often made instore, and on impulse,” says Alves. Intelligent analytics, easily integrated into existing network video surveillance, provides store owners and retail managers with access to real-time data. In turn, this empowers them to make daily, or even hourly, decisions in response to instore customer behavior and operational issues. This is key to retaining customers and fostering store loyalty through the delivery of a seamless and delightful customer experience, ultimately positively impacting the bottom line.

“Previously, retailers would spend countless hours gathering and analysing customer data,” continues Alves. However, this was only ever able to be applied in retrospect. “Today, retailers can respond immediately, improving both operations and the customer experience in real-time.”

Alves goes on to discuss some keys areas where today’s retail landscape is set to benefit:

People counting: No longer guesswork, or fraught with human error, reliable people counting allows effective planning from staffing through to promotional activities. “It also frees up staff to focus on their key role, that of customer service,” says Alves.

Monitor all touch points: Retailers can now monitor every single foot of floor space, gathering valuable data with regards to dead spots or traffic congestion. “Once again, this enables them to act immediately, upping efficiencies and thereby improving the customer experience,” says Alves. Similarly, they are able to immediately ascertain the aisles or product displays attracting attention (known as dwell analysis).

Analysis of demographics: “Imagine knowing the exact profile of your Friday afternoon customer versus those who frequent your store on a Monday morning,” says Alves. Access to this precise demographic information allows retailers to effectively plan instore promotions and product launches in line with the intended target audience. “It maximises the impact and return of these initiatives, completely reducing the risk associated with guesswork or assumptions.”

Traffic flow: Real-time analysis of traffic flow through shop entrances and exits allows for better planning, further facilitating as seamless a shopping experience as possible for the customer.

Checkout lines: Analytics allow for prompts to be put in place that alert when queues exceed a certain number of people, or length, triggering the opening of additional till points.

Multichannel marketing: Instore surveillance and intelligence is doing for instore marketing what social media and analytics did for online. “By integrating various components of one’s marketing and promotion strategy, the greater the outcome,” says Alves. Take the example of a store that knows its top item of clothing sells 50% better when displayed on a top shelf, using a mannequin. Access to this information then allows the same retailer to incorporate this knowledge into its online activities, yielding better returns. “It’s about understanding customer behaviour, and patterns,” continues Alves. “The ability to analyse customers’ instore behaviour is providing exactly that.”

Supplier relationships: Powerful information can be relayed to suppliers (who are not instore) around exactly which product lines or displays attract the most attention, further aiding the building of strong supplier relationships.

Having installed several network video solutions within retail environments around the world, Alves goes on to add that these benefits are as applicable to local supermarkets as they are to large international chains. “It’s about gaining as deep an understanding of one’s customer as possible.” This is essential and relevant across every retail environment, irrespective of size. “Only that which can be measured, or analysed, can be improved.”

With customers ranging from Boots and Paul Smith in the UK through to Hugo Boss in France, Lacoste in Spain and of course, Cape Quarter, Shoprite Checkers and Sasol Convenience in South Africa, to name but a few, Alves is passionate about the impact intelligent network surveillance and analytics can play in the retail space.

“It’s not about the amount of data we have access to (which is extreme and growing daily), but what we do with it that counts,” stresses Alves. “How we harvest the data and the intelligence we draw from it, coupled with the systems we put in place to facilitate this, is what will enable retailers to either ‘up’ their game, or not!”

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