The Eye in the Sky

Not long ago I was in a Walmart with my three kids to pick up a few bath items as a gift for my wife. For some reason the self-checkout lanes had been removed, so we were forced to use the express lane. There were three people in front of me, and the person checking out was trying to use their credit card. Swipe after swipe it would not work. The line got longer, and after 5 minutes I set my items down and walked out. I don't know what the problem was, and I didn't really care. If a retailer can't get me checked-out within a reasonable amount of time, I walk.

Queue management is a huge part of retail operations, especially for scan-and-bag retailers. Too many open checkouts and you're overspending on labor; too few and you risk frustrating customers leading to lost sales. Regardless of whether the cashier paged for help, the manager should be aware when lines get long and take corrective action.

AA047856.jpgTesco uses Irisys to count the people in line using infrared technology. When the queue gets long, the system alerts management to open more checkout lanes. Under Amour recently deployed Sensormatic's people counters, which also monitor traffic throughout the store.

Bu there's so much more data to be collected. Just as sophisticated video systems can detect theft as I described in this posting, it can also be used to mine customer statistics, such as queue depth, traffic patterns, and consumer behavior.

We collect sales data and mine it for price affinity, cross elasticity, and product affinities, so why can't we mine video to better understand how customers shop. Which displays attract them? When end-caps hold their attention longest? Which floor models draw the most attention? Which items do they pickup, then put back?

It will be interesting to see how retailers use video analytics to improve the shopping experience, or a least get me checked-out faster.

Comments:

Good point and reminded me of what I saw today while enjoying lunch @ one of my favorite burger joints - In-N-Out in Mesa, AZ. As people enter the cashier on hand will yell out 'N new customers' based on the number of people coming in. Additional cashiers jump in behind empty registers to take orders thereby minimizing the time waiting in line and stay until the lines are empty. At that time they go back to doing something else until the remaining cashier starts yelling out again. Simple but effective. I guess too simple for a company as big as Walmart.

Posted by Tony Johnson on August 03, 2009 at 10:42 AM CDT #

I like "simple but effective."

Posted by David on August 03, 2009 at 01:45 PM CDT #

Both Tesco and Sainsbury supermarkets do something similar to In and Out.

Selected staff members in the store are given a yellow or red card for the day (may be a "virtual" card). When store gets busy then the checkout manager broadcasts on the PA system first "yellow card holders to checkout" (later "red" if it's really busy). The card holders are supposed to tidy up what they are doing and attend to the checkout until it gets less busy.

Also simple and effective.

Miles

Posted by Miles Thomas on October 07, 2009 at 09:59 AM CDT #

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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