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The latest technology developments for tracking the flow of customers through a store to optimise layout and service levels, writes Retail Technology editor Miya Knights

The latest technology developments for tracking the flow of customers through a store to optimise layout and service levels, writes Retail Technology editor Miya Knights

While the numbers of 'showrooming' shoppers armed with smartphones while instore has increased, technology has also boosted traditional store analytics.

Whether it's Intel's AndyVision shelf-compliance robot developed with Carnegie Mellon University, or the use of infrared or other sensing technologies to produce store 'heat maps,' the quest to better understand instore traffic is never more important in retail.

Mapping route to retail success

That's according to Tim Callan, chief marketing officer of instore analytics systems provider RetailNext (formerly known as BVI), who spoke to Retail Technology at the National Retail Federation (NRF) 'Retail Big Show' in New York this week. "We’re at NRF to highlight how important Wi-Fi and gender analytics have become," he said. "We are also showcasing PoS [point-of-sale] exception reporting and multi-camera and data heat maps."

He said the RetailNext v4.0 appliance would be released next month would enable integration with Intellex digital video management systems. "Being hardware agnostic, we can work with different cameras to detect even gender and height – so family groups can be identified, for example," Callan added.

"At the PoS, traffic volume can be more closely linked to conversion down to SKU [stock-keeping unit] level. And passive detection using Wi-Fi can track how many passers by actually come in to a store, while more active tracking, when the consumer opts in, can help to augment what a retailer can already learn from its other tracking metrics."

Taking video analytics in hand

While Callan said some retailers engage his company to install new store digital video systems, others already have such technology in place. One major US retailer that has, even more unusually, built its own digital store analytics system in-house, from the ground up is the food chain Kroger.

Brett Bonner, Kroger research and development and operations research director, explained that the retailer invested in mechanical electrics and optical design for its own camera and management system to develop the intellectual property of its store operations. This is resulting in its work with IT supplier Wincor Nixdorf in bringing this IP to market through the Intelligent Store Intelligent Systems (ISIS) range.

"We operate a very rich RF [radio frequency] environment in the ceilings of our stores that also handles communications with temperature monitors, cart trackers and other systems," said Bonner. "With nearly 150 units with cameras up there we can operate high-performance loss management powered by unrivalled visibility." He also described a system to zone off store areas, like at the pharmacy counter, to improve staffing levels and cut waiting times.

Instore printing gets update

Even printers were being cast in the light of retailers’ quest to improve the analysis of store promotions and sales. Epson showcased its networked mobile printing and cloud-based computing TMi range to bring new functionality to the PoS with lower cost of ownership. It said retailers could enhance customer transactions with couponing, loyalty programmes, digital receipts and more.

One such application is SmartReceipt, which Tom Downs, Epson North America sales representative, said features analytical reporting for coupon printing and redemption statistics. “The app resides on the TMi and PoS,” he said. “But you can access the management interface via tablet and use hierarchical privileges so the franchisee can only see what coupons are available to them at local store level, while being managed centrally by corporate.” He added that customers already included fast fod chain Subway. 

"We saw immediate effects," commented Bob Grewal, development agent at Subway. "In as little as a week, people were bringing back the coupons and repeat customers started coming in at a faster rate. It's been a big help for us to see an increase in business right away and sales are up overall."

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