By: Ritesh Deokar
As Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted in phases across the country, retail stores are also beginning to prepare to open under strict hygiene and safety restrictions. According to the Retailers Association of India (RAI), the pandemic amid an economic slowdown has hit the revenue growth of Indian retailers selling non-essential items like clothes and jewellery by at least 75%.
Compounding this scenario is a Crisil report, which states that store closures, social distancing and a lack of demand due to the pandemic may cause a 30-35% dent in the revenues of organised apparel retailers in the current financial year.
As retailers prepare for recovery, they will need new strategies to attract customers while also ensure the space is safe with all the necessary hygiene precautions and strict social distancing measures in place. This new normal will force retailers to consider how technology can help them become innovators for their business, understand customer mindsets and eventually create an environment where shoppers would feel comfortable and excited to return to.
Retailers may be presented with new challenges and questions, such as, how do they make sure that the store is not overcrowded? Which areas of the store are most frequented, and when? How do they know if the minimum distance between people is being respected? How do they address the customers in case of violations and avoid conflict? And many more.
Open Video Management Software (VMS) with its many new capabilities and unlimited integrations provides the answers. Today’s VMS systems are integrated with video analytics and can offer many new capabilities and features which can help retailers transform their in-store experience suitable for a post-Covid-19 world.
Keeping track of the number of customers in the store is not easy, especially when you have large or complex spaces. Under new social distancing rules, overcrowding can happen all too easily. To avoid this and not risk severe penalties, it is advisable to always be aware of the number of customers present in the store.
The most elegant solution for this is real-time video analytics, which accurately tells you the number of people in any specific area and automatically notifies when the maximum number of people has been reached. Store owners can set up appropriate measures in advance for this situation and avoid flouting rules for having too many people in the store.
Controlling access to the store
The number of customers inside the store can also be controlled via video-based access control. First, it needs to be determined how many customers can safely be inside the premise without violating the local recommended proximity distance of 6.5 feet. Access control can also help ensure if visiting customers are meeting the required criteria of wearing masks and sanitizing their hands before entering.
Automated door control goes hand in hand with access control. VMS works with a “one in, one out” policy, where waiting customers are notified when they can enter the store. This technology is attractive if the stores have automatic doors because it allows controlling the doors from an integrated door control system. If the VMS detects that the allowed number of people in the 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 in.
Both these technologies relieve additional employees, as the entrances to the store no longer need monitoring.
While being engrossed in shopping or checking out products, customers may find themselves right next to another customer. This was not a problem until recently, but due to Covid-19, it is now strongly recommended locally to maintain proximity of at least 6.5 feet. Crowd detection technology can also detect when people overstep the prescribed safe distance and immediately set off an alarm.
When safe distances are no longer required in retail, distance detection can be used to obtain information about customer density inside the store, ensuring customers can always move freely in a store without crowds.
With Covid-19 on the rise in India, retailers need to keep tabs on which areas of the store attract the highest density of shoppers. This knowledge is especially important in the current situation as it can help retailers position products in a way that can help equalize areas of high footfalls and avoid crowding.
Thermal maps, or so-called heat maps, can be created from the footage supplied from the cameras. These show where customers especially tend to linger in the store over a period. By visualizing the customer’s dwell time on certain products, retailers can identify the hotspots, determine the most effective routes, and identify which products are popular and which are not and then position the products more favorably.
One-way routes in the store
To avoid close contact in a limited space, the store can guide the customers through the sales floor on defined ‘one-way routes’. Modern VMS 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. Post-Covid-19, this can be used to identify which paths the customers mostly prefer and analyze whether products are well-placed to be noticed or would be better positioned elsewhere.
Long queues at checkouts or displays can spoil a customers’ shopping experience, and currently bring a high risk of infection. VMS can record the number of waiting customers and inform the staff in real-time. Staff can react to customer demand as quickly as possible. Also, by continuously monitoring the cash registers, storeowners can identify customer flows and can call in more staff when needed.
Automated cues for safety
There are times when customers may display inappropriate behavior, and this may require an immediate response. The video system here can be programmed to react automatically in such cases. Automated audio messages – loudspeaker announcements – or visual cues – via monitors or smart walls – in real-time can help remind customers of the applicable regulations, without the need to act personally when manpower is short.
Here, we see that an open VMS is a brand agnostic platform that allows integration with multiple cameras, switches, servers, software, access control and other third-party products. This enables integrators greater scope of interoperability and provides integrators and customers solutions that can go beyond security. These new technologies, integrated with a flexible, smart and open VMS, will not only help retailers comply with all the new requirements and regulations but also improve customer experience in a cost-effective manner over the long-term.
(The author is Country Manager at Milestone Systems India and the views expressed in this article are his own)