Shopping used to be many things to many people: a quick, casual in-and-out experience; a chance for discovery, escapism, and pleasure or just another chore in the daily routine. But during this pandemic, shopping can now be an anxiety-filled mission.
To put shoppers at ease, some companies are automating store occupancy monitoring and social distancing compliance, helping to create a safer, more comfortable environment for both patrons and employees. Sensormatic Solutions, whose ShopperTrak brand revolutionized retail by introducing in-store shopper traffic counting technologies, is working with Intel to bring artificial intelligence (AI) enhancements to in-store cameras and sensors to help stores operate safely, while also laying the foundation for further innovation well beyond the pandemic.
A Track Record in Tracking Technologies
Beginning the mid-1990s, ShopperTrak installed sensors in thousands of stores, introducing shopper traffic monitoring and conversion rate analysis. It was a game changing technology for the industry, leading to new insights about the customer journey as well as permanent changes in how businesses designed and staffed their stores.
Decades later, COVID-19 may have inadvertently triggered another watershed moment for retail.
Sensormatic Solutions considered the challenge of how to help stores navigate the new, rapidly changing rules of operating during a public health crisis. Given the cost and risk of using staff to monitor social distancing and occupancy rules, they realized automating these processes could help save lives, reduce anxiety, and protect margins during a vulnerable time.
Behind It All, Things Just Got Much Smarter
Sensormatic Solutions understood time was of the essence. They worked quickly alongside Intel to help stores leverage existing sensor and camera platforms to accomplish more complex tasks, such as tracking social distancing, which involves complicated analysis such as recognizing the difference between family groups in proximity and close interactions between strangers.
While Intel and Sensormatic Solutions had been working on a video AI solution for 18 months, they accelerated the deployment time from months to weeks in light of the pandemic. They leveraged Intel® Vision Technology and Intel® processors designed to aggregate, analyze and run AI models in stores. These power Sensormatic Solutions software to provide a dashboard with real-time store insights, staffing suggestions and predictions for customer behavior.
Once set up, this technology can send employees important notices when stores reach maximum occupancy. The dashboard can provide specific staffing insights to inform recommendations based on occupancy trends, such as indicating when employees should be stationed at doors for crowd control. It can also support digital signage at entrances, alerting customers about how full the store is at any given moment, or even providing a traffic light system to indicate when it’s okay to enter.
This solution has already shipped to a select group of retailers for testing. Soon it will even provide face mask compliance technology, notifying staff when customers are violating store rules or local guidelines.
Dashboards provide analysis of occupancy levels and social distancing requirements.
These days, shoppers embrace emerging technologies: transparent in-store safety, contactless payments, responsive staffing, and convenient fulfillment models are table stakes for retail in what’s widely called the “New Normal”—a world more wary of human contact, where convenience and safety are always top of mind.
Cautious customers expect stores to do everything at their disposal to maintain order and safety. Consumer surveys have found that 68% of respondents say it will take a long time (if ever) for life to return to normal.1 That means it falls to stores to accommodate anxious shoppers over the long term; hence, real-time occupancy and social distancing solutions are a must.
“As retailers face their new reality as a result of COVID-19, we believe that the industry needs to begin to restore consumer confidence, and that starts with helping to create a safer store environment.”
Moving from Crisis to Recovery
The technology is already seeing a rush of enthusiastic adopters including retailers such as department stores, home goods and furnishings, and even telecommunications providers. While the initial focus was on essential stores, now Sensormatic Solutions is working to help enable a broader set of businesses, big and small, that are currently hoping to reopen and recover.
Demand for public safety monitoring goes beyond retail; Sensormatic Solutions has received inquiries from everyone from sports complexes to casinos, libraries, schools, and even prisons.
Despite the broad interest, Sensormatic Solutions is focusing on how they can help loyal customers weather a difficult time.
“As retailers face their new reality as a result of COVID-19, we believe that the industry needs to begin to restore consumer confidence, and that starts with helping to create a safer store environment,” said Subramanian Kunchithapatham (KS), vice president of engineering at Sensormatic Solutions. “With Intel® Vision Portfolio, from Intel® Movidius™ Vision Processing Units (VPU) to Intel® Core™ processors and Intel® Xeon® processors, and OpenVINO™ toolkit development tools, we have been able to tailor solutions that help equip retailers with the right technology along with real-time insights to make business-critical decisions and ensure customers’ confidence in safety”.
A Promising Future with In-Store AI
Counting people and social distancing is just the beginning.
With an Intel®-based, AI-ready smart hub in each location, businesses over time can take advantage of emerging applications for shopper engagement, shelf replenishment, quick service restaurants, exterior curbside wait time, and more.
The retail landscape continues to shift and evolve. With AI inside stores, we’ll find a safer, smarter way to shop.
For more information on Sensormatic Solution’s COVID-19 retail technology, click here.