The technology driving retail efficiency

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Middle East retailers are demanding better, smarter video solutions – and not just for security, writes Dennis Choi, General Manager, IDIS Middle East & Africa.

Smart retailers know that video surveillance can boost profitability and deliver significant value beyond core security and safety functions – by leveraging actionable data about activity in store, data gathered using a new generation of surveillance tech powered by AI-enabled analytics.

As stores across the Middle East look to build customer loyalty and adapt to dynamic trading conditions, more than ever, they need affordable tools and technology to help them drive efficiency across their operations. Video analytics has a vital role to play and the latest innovations have come at just the right time.

Intelligence, to be actionable, needs to be targeted and available locally to improve performance on the shop floor. For years, software that analysed point of sale and inventory data, and helped retailers to understand customer buying behaviour, was only available to centralised and headquartered marketing and sales departments.

Typically, this did little to inform, empower or incentivise in-store staff. Very often there were gaps between top-down promotions and merchandising. And store managers were left to act on intuition, which depended on their level of experience and their familiarity with local customer bases. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t, and for businesses with multiple branches, the gap between the best performing stores and the worst could be hard to close.

Today, a new-generation solution – exemplified by the IDIS AI Box for Retail – solves these problems by empowering those branch and in-store managers with the quality of data and intelligence only previously available at head office level.

With an at-a-glance dashboard and easy-to-use reporting tools, local and regional managers can now supplement their personal experience with accurate metrics, including, where needed, insights about day-to-day activity and longer term seasonal trends. This better intelligence can be shared with store teams, encouraging them to work more cohesively and effectively, to meet sales and performance targets.

Building customer loyalty

The new capabilities delivered by IP surveillance are becoming increasingly important, as retail businesses seek to improve customer ROX (Return-on-Experience) and convert browsing into purchases and increase customer and visitor loyalty.

AI-assisted, automated monitoring and notifications are helping to reduce waiting times for customers at check-outs, click-and-collect and ticket desks, fitting rooms and curb-side pickups. They are letting staff be directed more quickly to where they are needed most, and are driving efficiency by allowing staffing levels to be optimized. And, for operations with multiple branches and sites, they are helping to ensure consistency of service and staff performance.

All this aligns well across a region known for its destination malls and its reputation for exemplary service – in sectors from aviation, hotels, landmarks, sporting venues and hospitality as well as an expanding retail landscape.

Well timed

For businesses looking for ways to work smarter, the lower-cost, high-yield tech has come at just the right time. Analytics-driven metrics of in-store activity are now a practical option for even small retailers. They allow better resource targeting, with effective deployment of staff, reduce the operational burden on managers overseeing store teams and provide a better understanding of store layouts and positioning of merchandising and promotions.

Increasingly, it’s understood how this helps to build customer loyalty, through smoother, more impressive service and better shopping experiences. This is valued in a Middle East retail market that is fragmented yet highly competitive.

We are seeing economic pressures from multiple directions – competition from e-commerce, increasing costs, supply chain disruption, a squeeze on consumer spending – all factors that are prompting bricks and mortar retailers to adapt.

And while the economic pressures in the West may be a headwind to tourism, other factors have come into play that will continue to increase demand for better, smarter video solutions. For example, there is growing familiarity with AI technology and greater awareness of its potential to contribute to business profitability. The retailers that prosper will include many that adapt and use video analytics in new ways.

Delivering wider business benefits

By taking advantage of AI video, security managers will be well-placed to deliver wider business benefits and to gain influence with other departments and functions, from IT to marketing, which also gives them access to increased budgets. In turn, systems integrators can broaden their service offerings beyond traditional security applications.

New applications and growth opportunities

Brick-and-mortar retail, including grocery stores, the dining out sector, consumer banking and hotels and leisure destinations, are key verticals for video analytics. During the pandemic, many adopted AI solutions and used automated face mask detection, occupancy, social distancing monitoring and people counting.

Understandably, these users are now seeking to take further advantage of the simple plug-and-play approach combined with high accurate deep learning. Stores are also looking for technologies that can support them as they integrate their online and logistics operations with brick-and-mortar stores, to offer consumers a hybrid model.

That means upskilling staff while driving down operating costs by finding new efficiencies. Actionable intelligence is being used to this end, streamlining operations from stock delivery, and tracking to point of sale, as well as tackling shrinkage and focusing on other costs such as staff retention and employee performance.

AI video in the form of both edge cameras and AI box appliance are helping retailers stay competitive in the ever-evolving retail landscape.

And, much of this new video tech is being designed very much with the user in mind too. For example, the IDIS AI Box dashboard is designed to be exceptionally intuitive, so that store managers and staff need next to no training, while head office teams can quickly generate reports on day-to-day activity and long term or seasonal trends.

Unlimited scale, unlimited scope

It is scalable without any limits, from small single shops through to department stores and supermarket chains.

Users can opt to use edge AI cameras or simply add additional pre-configured boxes to encompass up to 32-streams per site, which allows even large stores to cover areas such as entrances, check outs, click-and-collect and returns desks, changing rooms, deli-counters and busy aisles to give them the in-store and customer intelligence they need across their branch networks.

At the same time – with security and loss prevention always the priority – cameras can be sited to give security teams the kind of comprehensive and high-definition coverage they need, rather than being limited to the top-of-head positioning.

So, these latest video solutions are ticking multiple boxes at once – giving retailers actionable intelligence as well as the complete domain awareness that allows them to proactively respond to suspicious activity before losses occur and investigate incidents with highly efficient event search and robust recorded video for use as forensic evidence.  

To find out more about IDIS’ innovative solutions and witness the launch of the company’s new 5MP Edge AI cameras, head over to Stand S1-J27 at Intersec 2023.

This article was originally published in the January 2023 edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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