In the Customer’s Shoes

Brown Shoe Co. uses video analytics to step into customer analytics

As IP technology and advanced video surveillance systems become increasingly popular, video analytics have officially entered the mainstream. Now, companies that range from large global enterprises to small, neighborhood stores are seeing the inherent value of video analytics in the retail world.

But some companies are taking it a step further, envisioning ways to harness invaluable marketing data from video surveillance footage—at once protecting and promoting their company with the same surveillance system.

Seeing the Potential

Jon Grander, vice president of asset and revenue management for Brown Shoe Co., sees this type of potential for his company, which operates more than 1,300 Famous Footwear and Naturalizer stores in the United States and Canada while also wholesaling to retailers as diverse as Nordstrom and Walmart.

“Today, a lot of companies use analytics for loss prevention and incident review,” Grander said. “But when you focus that technology on creating a better customer experience, you can come up with some really powerful solutions.”

That’s why Brown Shoe Co. has partnered with Prism Skylabs, a San Francisco-based company whose system uniquely combines next-generation video surveillance with detailed customer analysis. Its cloud-based software leverages existing camera networks to allow business owners a more holistic view and understanding of their companies, creating new revenue streams and finding unique ways to engage with consumers.

The resulting data enables store employees to understand how long customers have lingered in their stores, what path they’ve taken and what merchandise they touched. And, by creating visualizations or heat maps of aggregate data, Prism is able to present this data so that it can be easily understood by any employee and protect customer privacy.

“In a way, this type of information has been available to us for years, through marketing companies that sit outside the store and simply observe: counting customers, recording linger time and watching where customers are drawn,” Grander said. “Prism lets us do this in real-time, over an extended period of time—not just a given day or weekend. The system lets us understand the preferences of thousands of customers across different platforms and gather information to improve our store designs, promotions and what our sales associates are doing.”

Mapping Customer Activity

Brown Shoe is using the software at a number of sites around North America. To ensure that the technology would be a good fit for its business, the company chose to focus the deployment on its redesigned mall concept stores, whose long aisleways and many displays make them the ideal environment.

“We want to consistently deliver the best possible experience for our customers,” Grander said. “Prism is useful in understanding the efficacy of the design, marketing, merchandising and layouts of our stores.”

The software company is providing Brown Shoe the ability to remotely access live data in each of its mall stores. The software condenses each customer interaction and movement into simple and usable images and reports, giving Grander and his team instant insight into a particular time of day or year. This insight was particularly useful during the back-to-school rush.

“By mapping that time frame, we can find out if shopping behavior is different before or after this period, whether we’re targeting products to where the consumer is going in the store and where we can best highlight products,” Grander said. “We believe we can enhance selling by stationing a shoe in a location where it will get the most looks and the most touches based on our prior experience.

“Anyone can get video, review it and connect the dots,” he said. “But that takes a lot of time. And there’s human error. With Prism, you have a system that connects the dots for you by telling a story about which shoes are being touched more frequently. That can equate to a sale. If there are a lot of touches on a shoe and not a lot of sales, it could either mean there is a fit problem or we didn’t have a customer’s size.”

Imagining the Future

Prism will also provide some additional advantages for Brown Shoe’s customers.

“It’s all about the experience,” Grander said. “Customers have a positive experience when we see a store open early because someone is waiting outside. With this software, we’re able to recognize exemplary performance of our associates so they can be recognized. A picture is worth a thousand words.”

The concept stores are still too new to determine how the system might aid in any redesign.

“We’re still learning more about how to best leverage all that Prism has to offer, but we believe this tool has the ability to revolutionize how we do business,” Grander said.

He imagines the company will get the most value out of the software by using it in their marketing and merchandising operations as a way to help differentiate their stores. However, they may eventually use its capabilities to optimize labor management and allocate hours more effectively.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “The system is very flexible and is focused on trying to build something that helps us come to meaningful conclusions.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Security Today.

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