The retail landscape is changing: How to adjust with audio and analytics

Not long ago, taking a trip to the retail store, dining out, and going to the gym were normal things to do, among other leisurely activities. This all came to an abrupt halt when many states put into effect shelter-in-place orders. But now, as some states begin to slowly reopen, retail stores are faced with a set of new questions. How can they safely open shop? How might the current environment shape their business for months and years to come? Consumers and retailers alike are finding they have to unexpectedly adapt to a suddenly changing social dynamic.

As everyone adjusts to a “new normal”, retailers are figuring out how they can efficiently meet customer demand while adhering to guidelines and regulations from health experts and authorities.

In recent weeks, we’ve received many questions about how network surveillance solutions could help businesses manage these new challenges. In this blog, Rick Snook, Business Development Manager, Retail and Banking, Chris Wildfoerster, Business Development Manager, Audio, and myself will examine the current retail landscape. We’ll discuss use cases where network technology based on sight, sound, and analytics can help retailers today and going forward.

How today’s crisis has changed the retail landscape

The consumer shopping experience has always been at the forefront of retailers’ minds. But it’s imperative they continue to place the shopper’s health and safety above all else.

At this point, most, if not all, retail stores have already adapted in some form or fashion. Plastic shields line checkout and customer service lines. Spacing continues to come under intense scrutiny. To combat this, taped arrows direct people down one-way aisles to prevent clustering and keep traffic moving. Stores are also keeping customers six feet apart with taped floors in check-out lines. And many retailers, who won’t or can’t allow customers inside, are at least offering curbside pickup.

Buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) has been an expected offering for a long time. However, the current situation has accelerated the need for retailers to have the correct processes in place to meet demand. In fact, most consumers—particularly younger ones, according to a recent Package Concierge survey—had been gravitating toward this option anyway because they want their purchases quicker. Some of the largest retailers have actually been performing quite well because of their pickup and delivery options. Customers want a synchronized buying experience. That means retailers that offer a seamless blend of their digital and in-store ecosystems will be well-positioned for the long-run.

Of course, that brings us to ask: How can retail stores offer in-store and curb-side pickup options safely and securely?

Provide quality service and keep customers safe with IP audio systems and analytics

While many of the safety protocols described above are a good start, enforcing them can be tricky. For example, just because taped arrows line floors doesn’t mean shoppers always follow them. They may also congregate too close together in checkout lines instead of keeping the mandatory six foot distance. And employees may forget to regularly wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.

Some stores could utilize more staff members to enforce these rules, but employees can’t be everywhere at once. This is where network surveillance technology, particularly IP audio and retail analytics can help.

Use technology to help people adhere to social distancing guidelines

How can retail stores efficiently enforce social distancing guidelines? What can they do to keep occupancy levels at the required levels set forth by their respective state? And how can they remind employees and customers about best health practices? Let’s discuss how network technology can answer these questions.

Queue monitoring: One way that retail stores can reduce queue levels is by installing an IP audio system that includes network cameras (embedded with queue monitoring analytics) and network speakers. Queue monitoring provides retailers with accurate real-time information about where bottlenecks occur. Once an event triggers a network camera, it will prompt a speaker or audio bridge to play a pre-defined clip. This might say, “Please remember to stay six feet apart until the customer in front of you has completed his or her transaction.” The same solution could also alert employees that help is needed at the cash registers. In effect, this can help speed up purchases and disperse crowded check-out lines.

Queue monitoring analytics also tracks valuable information on traffic and queue fluctuations throughout the day. Retailers can analyze this data to improve resource allocation and decrease wait times to enhance the overall customer experience. For retailers still outfitted with analog hardware, fear not. An audio bridge, which connects and combines with analog and IP audio systems, can help retailers  take advantage of the latest network technology. An audio bridge supports a simple action rule where any number of reoccurring events can be created to repeat every 5 to 10 minutes, or at various time intervals.

Occupancy threshold: One of the challenges retail stores currently face is managing their store’s occupancy level. Many states are opening in phases. Part of this phased opening includes limiting the number of people in a store at the same time. From what we’ve seen, this is often ranging between 25-50 percent capacity to start.

Retailers can manage occupancy levels by utilizing analytics that allow for a user-defined occupancy threshold. Coupled with network cameras, this type of analytics application can provide real-time data on how many people are present at a single time. From there, the network solution can display the information as a percentage on a monitor. And when a store’s occupancy exceeds a certain threshold, a different message could pop up, a red light turns on at the entrance, or a specific audio clip plays over the IP audio system.

Retail stores can use the data they collect to compare performance across times and locations. This insight can help them better understand demand so they can inform customers about peak shopping hours. Relaying this information can help stores reduce high-volume traffic by spreading out visitor flow over a longer time period.

Analytics can help staff better react to real-time situations and improve the flow of traffic.

Use technology to keep people safe and healthy while shopping

Another way retail stores are trying to protect occupants is by placing hand sanitizer stations around the store. One U.S. retailer is providing and asking customers to use hand sanitizer as they walk into the restroom. Another, and likely many others, are offering hand sanitizer to customers as they enter the store.

In both cases, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to enforce rules without the aid of technology. Cross line detection analytics is a simple trip-wire application installed on network cameras that can trigger an event when someone crosses a user-defined virtual line. The application can prompt an IP audio system to then play a pre-recorded audio clip that reminds customers and employees to use sanitizer as they enter the store or bathroom. Or it can remind them to do so as they’re leaving the building.

Keeping surfaces (particularly door knobs) constantly clean is also challenging. With a network door station, retailers can setup up keyless entry into private areas to reduce the spread of germs. When an employee looks into the camera, the solution identifies them from a database of authorized personnel. Once the system authorizes the person, the network solution automatically unlocks the door.

How to safely and efficiently service customers when they’re not allowed in retail stores

Businesses have adapted to keep their doors open even when they cannot let customers inside. They’ve done this by offering curbside pickup or utilizing on-demand prepared food delivery options.

Curbside pickup: A number of network surveillance solutions exist to service customers without face-to-face interaction.

One option is to install a license plate recognition solution. This type of analytics application captures a license plate in real-time, compares it to a pre-defined list, and generates an alert when the customer arrives in front of the store for pickup. From there, the IP audio system can alert the person outside with a pre-defined message. This message could say, “Thank you for shopping with us. Your order will be out in a minute. Please open your trunk.”

Another option is to install a solution that utilizes QR codes. The business creates a visitor list with the person’s information and the time they’re allowed to access the building. That person then receives a QR code which is simultaneously sent to the company’s access door controller. When he or she arrives, the network door station grants them access to the building. Employees don’t need to be physically present. And if someone wants to change their pickup time or cancel, the company can do so as needed.

Curbside pickup & delivery: Retail stores can utilize a network door station to communicate when an item is ready for pickup or delivery. In one scenario, the trip-wire application activates the door station. This then alerts an employee inside the building and a two-way conversation can ensue with the driver.

The store can also configure a similar solution so when a driver presses a call button, it sends a notification to the IP audio system to play a pre-loaded clip. This clip could state, “Delivery driver is ready for pickup.”

The retailer can even eliminate the call button entirely with facial recognition technology. This would trigger a notification that the driver has arrived and is ready for pickup.

Change is happening fast, but technology is keeping up

The way retail companies were accustom to doing business was upturned only a couple of months ago. Since then they have been moving quickly to adapt. It’s important, now more than ever, to focus on innovative, cost-effective business solutions while at the same time ensuring customer safety and their shopping experience.

What we want to get across is that retailers are not alone in this uphill battle. There are network surveillance solutions that take advantage of sight, sound, and analytics to help retail companies—and many other businesses for that matter—meet customer demand, adhere to health regulations, and efficiently manage business in this suddenly changing world.


View solutions for today’s challenges

Rick Snook, Business Development Manager, Retail and Banking, and Chris Wildforester Rick Snook is the Business Development Manager for Axis Communications.  In this role he provides support and education and assists with providing comprehensive and sustainable solutions to our large end users while protecting our channel partners. Rick is primarily responsible for the Canadian Retail and Banking market segments.

Rick joined Axis in 2015 as a Key Account Manager for end users support for the Central Canada Market.  He has over 34 years of sales, marketing, technical and design experience in the electronic security industry.

Rick has been involved with industry leading associations such as CANASA, ASIS, Security Industry Association for many years. He was awarded The RA Henderson Award for his achievements within the security industry and making significant contributions to the advancement of the interests of the entire industry.

Rick holds a Physical Security Professional (PSP) certification from ASIS International, CPTED Level 1 as well as an Axis Certified Professional (ACP) designation from Axis Communications.

Chris Wildforester, Business Development Manager, Audio, Chris Wildfoerster is the Business Development Manager for Audio Solutions for Axis Communications, Inc. In this capacity he is responsible for developing strategies to expand Axis’ presence in the audio market.

Chris has three decades of experience in audio and controls industries building channels, driving strategic partnerships and developing go-to-market strategies in the commercial and professional AV markets. He has worked with industry leading companies such as Bogen Communications, BOSE, Crestron Eletronics, ClearOne and MUSIC Group.

Chris has been an active contributor to AVIXA, CEA, CEDIA, NSCA, and various other associations. He is well known for his expertise working with AV/IT integrators and distributors, discovering new channels to market and forging business and technological alliances