By Wai King Wong, Axix Communications country manager ANZ

When you understand the way your customers think, you can better understand the way they shop.  From knowing the most popular route taken when walking through a store, to finding out the least frequented areas and where shoppers dwell the longest; by getting inside the mind of the customer you can more easily adapt your store to facilitate their needs.

Far from simply acting as a tool to monitor who enters and leaves a store, IP network cameras have a number of intelligent applications that can be leveraged to help understand customers. Whether it’s the direction in which a store is walked through, how people browse shelves or how they queue at checkouts, this knowledge of shopper behavior can help improve the shopping experience while also securing maximum benefit from shelving space, store layout and checkout areas.

There are companies that provide analysis to the retail sector on what shoppers actually do in store and how their conscious and subconscious motivations and opinions affect their buying decisions.  One example of that is BVI Networks. They use surveillance cameras to monitor selected products or aisles and records shopper behavior, enabling them to identify barriers to sale for product manufacturers and retailers. Recording quality, accessibility to data and portability of cameras are essential requirements for BVI Networks. 

IP cameras can assist in such cases by monitoring the amount of time shoppers spend in front of specific products or in specific aisles. This is known as ‘dwell time’ and can be displayed to store managers in the form of a ‘heat map’ image. This can be invaluable information in deciding whether a customer is intently reading packaging information or whether they are having difficulty locating a certain item, and this could be crucial in making a sale.

A similar application can be used to map the most popular route a customer takes when moving through a store. With heat mapping technology, the movement of sales shoppers around a store is tracked by IP cameras and displayed to staff using an illustrated image that marks out the main paths that customers are taking.  Intelligence gained from a heat map can then be used to decide where the most popular products should be placed to ensure easy customer access, as well as the best areas to display items that stores are keen to turn around in a hurry. Heat mapping can even be used to prevent congestion, thus maximising sales.

When it comes to monitoring checkouts and keeping down queue levels, IP surveillance cameras can also help. A recent (August 2010) study by Barclays bank in the UK  found that two fifths of shoppers refuse to queue for longer than two minutes and two thirds (68%) of shoppers regularly abandon purchases when confronted with lengthy queues. Alarmingly, the same research also found that just over half (51%) of shoppers refuse to even enter a store if they can see a queue from the entrance. This can have a dramatic effect on a retailer’s bottom line.

To avoid large checkout queues forming, IP network cameras can be integrated with queue management solutions which provide data on queue length, waiting and total checkout times. This intelligence can then help store managers to analyse optimal numbers of checkout aisles and balance staff levels during peak trading times, thus enabling improved profitability while retaining high levels of customer satisfaction. Working in this manner, the store manager can be the first to know about potential setbacks and act accordingly to prevent the situation getting out of hand.

A network based people counter can improve store operations, staff optimisation and customer service. It not only tracks the number of customers in selected parts of the store, but also provides a set of tools that enables quick evaluation of merchandising and marketing efforts. The system is installed as part of the IP network, making relevant information accessible from anywhere at any time. With a network based people counter there is no need to manually gather and analyse customer data. Instead, statistics from several stores can be viewed and evaluated simultaneously, in real-time.

This makes it possible to take immediate or long term action.

Conversion rate, or the number of people entering a store compared to the number making a purchase, is the key indicator of a store’s performance. Monitoring conversion rates makes it easy to evaluate best practices and devise methods to increase sales.

With the numerous applications now available to retailers, using IP surveillance to get inside the mind of your customer and understand the way they shop could be an essential tool in putting you ahead of the competition.