12 Days of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas Surveillance Style

A look at the top IP surveillance features to use during the holiday shopping season

On the first day of Christmas my dealer gave to me, IP cameras to boost LP....

Now what?

From Black Friday all the way through the returns season, the sheer uptick in shoppers during the holiday season is daunting for retailers of any size. Some may see an extra million people walk through their doors this time of year, and the old cliché of doing more with less rings truer than those silver bells.

Fortunately, thanks to 15 years worth of innovations in IP video surveillance, the tools are out there to maximize operational control while bolstering loss prevention in the busy winter months. And since it is such a hectic yet wonderful time of year, why not escape from the traditional prose and have a little fun?

Without further ado, here’s a new rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” surveillance style. For brevity’s sake, let’s start on the 12th day:

Shelf Plan-o-Gramming

The last thing retailers want during any busy shopping season is outside vendors stocking shelves and putting up displays during store hours, yet this is the crucial time of year for products to be available for sale. Therefore, stores see a rise in overnight merchandising during the holiday season.

How can the surveillance system play a role here? If the system is IP-based, merchandisers can easily log in and remotely check on the overnight delivery schedule to make sure products and displays are loaded properly and on time. Analytics also can be used to protect trailers out back by detecting motion and sending alerts to the appropriate team member.

IP video can be beneficial for retail vendor partners, as well. They can run plan-o-gram analysis to see how merchandise is moving and make sure their signage is being properly displayed in the manner they paid for. Retailers can even turn this into a profit center by selling access to the video feeds for vendors to collect this data.

Exception-based Reporting

Without a doubt, point-of-sales transactions hit a yearly high in December for most stores. Exception-based reporting takes data from these POS transactions and analyzes patterns of potential fraud. By linking network video surveillance to the reports, it’s easy to spot if an exception-based reporting anomaly is cause for concern or if it’s just the result of sloppy cashiering. If it is a matter of human error, the video can be logged and tracked as a future training tool for employees.

Flash Robs a Brewing

Flash mobs are in vogue—there was even one that broke out at ASIS 2011. But while flash mobs are meant to be fun and entertaining, they are becoming trendy with high school students to orchestrate theft at retail shops, convenient stores and supermarkets. The “Flash Rob” is a disturbing trend.

IP-based motion analytics can detect crowd formation, which the camera detects as a data blob. Parking lot cameras can send an alert to security staff if a group is forming. Even if it’s a false positive, wouldn’t the store want to know if there’s a mob gathering outside? If not a threat, the data could be used to alert store managers that a wave of customers is coming and they should staff appropriately. The same video intelligence can be used to combat organized retail crime. These groups hit hard and heavy during the holiday season because the stores are full and employees are busy.

Fine Multi-streaming

Multi-streaming is a key benefit to IP video but one that’s not always used to its full potential. There are two main reasons to use this feature: storage and creating virtual cameras.

With a network camera that supports both multi-streaming and multiple compression technologies, users can have one H.264 video stream for long-term storage, while a motion JPEG stream is stored for live view and incident investigation. These different streams can be configured to record on motion, on a specific schedule, and at different resolutions and frame rates—all to fit within the parameters of what the system architecture allows.

A higher-resolution camera—HDTV and/or megapixel—can leverage multi-streaming to isolate different video streams to, in essence, create several virtual cameras. For instance, the camera positioned over the registers can record video of all 10 lanes while pre-selected, digitally zoomed-in video of individual registers is sent simultaneously. This is very beneficial in a densely populated store and will maximize the hardware investment.

Audit Time a Savin’

One of the toughest retail professions during the holidays is the regional investigator. These folks must investigate incidents, perform audits and address problems that arise. With the number of incidents that they must look into from November to January, IP video can help expedite the process.

Not only is video exponentially easier to tag, search and find, but remote viewing and file-sharing capabilities mean that the video evidence is always at their fingertips. By having immediate anytime, anywhere access, these folks won’t have to travel as much and don’t have to be in-store to conduct the investigation, which can interrupt the sales process. Networked video becomes a true force multiplier for the LP team.

Several Stores a Syncing

This one strays a bit from conventional LP thinking and moves into the marketing realm. For retailers that have several stores spread across the country, branding can be an issue. They want to ensure a consistent shopping experience from Boston to Boise in order to build customer loyalty. However, it takes time and money to hire vendors or assign internal staff to make sure that holiday deals, displays and decorations are not only consistent from store-to-store but also taken down when they’re supposed to be.

By centralizing video storage and using enterprise-class solutions, marketing managers can log in and check out multiple locations live and from the comforts of their desks. They can check in quickly on each store and call specific managers to fix a display problem if necessary.

Speaking of remote access, hosted video is a solid IP video option for two targets: smaller retailers and “pop-up stores.” The smaller retailer may not have the staff or resources to install a full head-end system, so paying a monthly fee for video storage is easy to manage and maintenance-free. The temporary pop-up store, like the Christmas knickknack store that rents out vacant space in the mall for two months, can quickly and easily set up a small hosted video surveillance system as long as it has an Internet link.

Systems Integrating

Systems integration is a major benefit that IP video holds over analog. Retailers have several different systems, from POS to EAS and from access control to HVAC, that can all benefit from intelligent networks. It’s all about applications.

POS data can be tagged with corresponding video to investigate sweethearting, age-restricted sales, bottom-of-the-basket loss and fraud. By creating a video context, retailers can better identify the parties involved to separate crime from an honest mistake. Tying in electronic article systems (EAS) integration not only helps staff quickly respond to alarms but also can be used to create consistent procedures. The video can be synced with an EAS alarm so it can be tagged for forensic investigation. A PTZ camera can be programmed to zoom in on the door when the alarm goes off. And, furthermore, it can help sort out human error. With so many people going through checkout, cashiers may be overwhelmed and simply forget to remove the tags. Video evidence can quickly sort out the potential mess while providing training material for the future. Also, linking the network video system to access control can assist with early-to-open, late-toclose issues.

Fighting Your Shrink

Nearly all 11 methods help LP departments fight shrink—this part comes here in the article because, well frankly, it was the closest thing to Five Golden Rings.

A better, more intelligent IP surveillance system will help fight internal and external shrink. There are many specialized software firms out there with solutions for common shrink problems. With a standards-based IP solution, adopting these various software programs is much easier than it was in the older proprietary analog world.

Furthermore, intelligent network cameras can tell you when they aren’t working or can’t see. With embedded active tampering alarms, the cameras will send an alert to the administrator when they fail to connect, have been moved or if, for instance, someone sets up a Christmas tree in front of a camera, blocking its view.

Store Ops and More

Retailers must rely on a host of policies and procedures to ensure that stores run smoothly during the holidays. With network video providing valuable data, issues can be addressed in real time, such as restocking shelves, cleaning up spills or even customer service. Back-of-house operations also benefit. Overnight deliveries can be monitored, the stockroom can be surveyed remotely and managers can quickly pull video if items are disappearing from the warehouse. Additionally, some stores are even using video to curtail energy spend. Low-light and thermal network cameras at night can be used in lieu of keeping the lights on all night, and the video system can alert operations if, for instance, a bay door has been left open too long, which would certainly waste heat in the winter months.

Covert Cams

Proper use of covert cameras comes down to the element of surprise. Of course there are analog covert cameras being used, but camera vision-type products that are IP-based—such as height strip cameras—will provide much-improved image quality for face shots on exit. Furthermore, any network camera can be wireless-enabled, meaning it can be frequently and easily moved around the store. Some big-box retailers do this regularly to help prevent internal shrink. If the employees don’t know where the cameras are this week, then how can they know if it’s “safe” to steal?

Queue Getting Long

By using analytics, such as cross-line detection or the ones described to detect Flash Robs, store managers can be alerted when a checkout or return line is too long. When they get an alert, they can make the decision to either open a new register or send more help up front. This goes back to customer service and the shopping experience.

And IP Cameras to Boost LP!

In the end, it all comes down to IP. None of the other 11 tricks can be done without high video quality, and network cameras can’t be outdone. HDTV-standard cameras are affordable today and offer consumer-quality video for surveillance professionals. What’s better, the 16:9 aspect ratio of an HDTV network camera can be turned on its side to show a narrow, corridor view of lanes, aisles and high-racking environments. No more wasted pixels on shelf space and walls.

Without network-based systems, the intelligent video tips and systems integration options wouldn’t be possible either. No one person could mine all the recorded video during the high season without the help of intelligent systems, tagging and integration. With a network video context throughout the store, the cameras become a force multiplier for LP, operations and marketing.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Security Today.

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