12 Days of Christmas Surveillance Style
A look at the top IP surveillance features to use during the holiday shopping season
- By Hedgie Bartol
- Dec 01, 2011
On the first day of Christmas my dealer gave to me, IP cameras
to boost LP....
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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”
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
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.