By Rick Snook
Retail will never be the same. In the last few months, retail has had to rethink its entire operation and approach to customer service to meet the pressing demands of today’s new normal. While most have done a pretty good job at securing their location(s) during the extended closures, some shops have been more exposed than others. Some businesses that were serving customers on a 24-hour service model had to shut down during this unprecedented situation and have become targets of break and enter. Perhaps because the level of protection was less due to them being unoccupied and closed for a long period. Perpetrators consider this kind of downtime as opportunistic, easy targets for break ins and shoplifting.
However, things are changing and some street facing retailers are starting to open their doors, but they are doing so in a post-crisis fashion, slowly, step by step, and with great caution. Their long-term strategy for doing business has been re-evaluated with strong commitments to the health and safety of their workers and customers. Policies and procedures are being reconsidered with an emphasis placed on protection and caring to respond to the essential needs of the communities that they serve.
The latest from the Retail Council of Canada, indicates that health and safety will remain of top concern for retail operators, employees, and customers during this transition period. This means properly restructuring floor plans to accommodate individual space, reducing store traffic congestion, elevated cleaning standards and sanitation, adding protective payment and serving barriers, employee and customer screening, and protective equipment.
Surveillance helps with more than just protection
While retailers aim to comply with local regulations for reopening and what the new normal will look like, things like proper signage come into play, staff training on procedures and best practices, creating traffic patterns for physical distancing, and technology that can also help.
For retail locations that remain closed, good surveillance is key for remote monitoring to view activities outside of the store and to build incident reports to flag and file video recordings as evidence. When situations of theft, violence or other incidents occur quality video recording are critical. Owners need a clear picture of what occurred. For stores that are slowly re-opening, surveillance solutions can be added to provide store occupancy levels, audio recordings to create reminders of distancing and hand washing or providing cross line detection and customer instructions. Cameras can provide video detection of cars arriving for curbside pickup, where an audio announcement is then made, advising the customer to remain in their car while the order is being prepped and brought out. In this case, it’s all about recording the activity to have verification of who picked up their goods or for delivery pick ups. By using video and audio solutions, owners can also deter loitering and they can gather evidence recordings to support assault threats from irate individuals in the store. When considering surveillance to address the current challenges and to get the best investment, consider having the following:
A business continuity plan in place that includes how to handle the day-to-day and remote surveillance to protect property, assets, and people
A customer service strategy that lists standards for a positive customer experience
Intelligence tools that meet the risk assessment for occupancy (people counting), face mask detection, remote door stations with audio and video, and audio for remote communication deterrents
A checklist for emergency store closings and openings
An up to date contact list with those on furlough removed
Updated policies and procedures. In the case of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) there should be standards for what is required
Solutions for new retail requirements
Retailers can retrofit their locations with simple surveillance systems, and in some cases, technology can be added using their existing system. It’s a matter of identifying the needs and then the technology to solve the issue(s).
Something like an occupancy estimator is a cost-effective method of accurately estimating the amount of people on the premises, so that a retailer can better understand visitor patterns and how their space is used. This valuable data capturing can help analyze overall occupancy for physical distancing measures, understand customer trends and enhance utilization of the space while providing the ideal environment to enhance customer experience and increase operational efficiency.
Occupancy estimator will assist with government regulations limiting the number of customers in a store, so the solution is also a smart option and can be used to cover single or double or multiple door entrances as multiple cameras with the application embedded can be linked to provide synchronized counting. With reliable two-way counting of people in both directions simultaneously, store operators can quickly analyze customer flow and identify peak visiting times. This direct access to real-time counting data can help stores make informed decisions like planning and allocating staff or security guards more effectively to safeguard staff and customers, ensure distancing and increase operational efficiency.
As customers try to accept the new normal in their retail experience, aggressive behaviours can escalate in a time when patience and physical safety are essential. Many safety and security incidents are preceded or initiated with sound. A camera with partner software for advanced audio analytics can help in vulnerable situations. This dual system continuously listens for pre-defined noises and initiates an alert when it hears aggressive behaviour, glass break or gunshot, ensuring immediate attention by store staff or security operators, who quickly can evaluate the situation by watching live video feeds and take necessary measures.
For customer experience and messaging speakers can be added to the system, enabling remote, immediate communication with customers. This in the immediate future reminds customers of physical distancing message to remain 6 feet or 2m apart, a hand washing message in the washroom area or a reminder message when someone walks through the entrance.
License plate recognition (LPR) can help to increase everyday efficiency and service levels like recording and capturing who is picking up at curbside or for added security measures in and around the building or in the parking lot. This requires a camera and partner software that runs either on the camera or on a server. It automatically captures the license plate in real-time, compares or adds it to a pre-defined list and then takes appropriate action such as generating an alert. The arrival of customers can also be enhanced my providing outdoor messaging that assistance will be with them shortly.
With the exponential rise in Uber or DoorDash food pickups, network door stations to notify staff when someone is at the store or restaurant for pick up, in addition to a contactless entrance is effective and sanitary for operators, drivers and finally for customers receiving the order. Door stations combine video surveillance, two-way communication and remote entry control in a single device. They’re a great option for install at entrances where many known and unknown visitors pass through on a regular basis and eliminates a high-touch door handle. They can also be used as intercom help points or emergency phones within a larger area.
The newest of technologies is body worn cameras that can be used by staff to record any activity at the touch of a button or continuously. With these new precedented times the safety of the stores greatest asset is people and using body worn can provide a complete capture of evidence that may be needed should an incident arise. The video recording is uploaded at the end of the shift by placing the device in the charging cradle.
What to watch for and who to ask
In these last few months, there has been a rash of new surveillance technologies introduced to the market, that may or may not meet mandated regulations or the criteria retail owners or restauranteurs need. Retailers and restauranteurs should be cautious and should not rush and purchase solutions that are for a temporary need, but that can assist the business in the long term.
Trusted surveillance integrators and suppliers who know the business should be who retailers go to at this time. Also, they should consider going straight to the manufacturers, as they know the technology better than anyone. Consultants and/or industry professionals who understand these verticals can also be a good source. Gathering all stakeholders and eco system partners can truly build the best solution for the business to obtain maximum benefit. Don’t purchase any shiny objects. Buy meaningful solutions for your business.
Rick Snook is the Business Development Manager for Retail and Banking at Axis Communications. In this role he provides support and education and assists with providing comprehensive and sustainable solutions to our large end users while protecting our channel partners. Rick holds a Physical Security Professional (PSP) certification from ASIS International, Loss Prevention Qualified (LPQ) from the Loss Prevention Foundation, CPTED Level 1 as well as an Axis Certified Professional (ACP) designation from Axis Communications.