What you need to know about surveillance cameras in stores


Starting in 2015, high-tech shelves, equipped with built in cameras could appear in grocery stores to watch us and get intelligence.

It’s called retail surveillance and at least one company is moving forward with plans to track what you put in your cart.

The idea is coming from the company that owns mega brands like Chips Ahoy, Nabisco, Ritz, and other snack foods.

The company called Mondelez wants to build a data-base of basic information about grocery store customers like age and sex, so it can better market its products.


Brand marketers are studying shoppers in grocery stores equipped with video analytic software:

“Shop as if no one is watching” seems like a simple enough command. But place a recruited consumer in a simulated grocery environment and bias almost always comes into play.

That’s one reason why brand marketers are trading time in labs fashioned after specific chains, for real-life observations in actual stores.

If consumers appear to be shopping as if no one is watching, it’s because they’re unaware that someone actually is. Tests are discreet since they involve ceiling cameras and video analytic software that gauges demographics such as gender and age range, while tracking consumers’ traffic patterns, dwell time in front of products, and whether or not they make a purchase.

“It’s almost like real-time feedback about how many people clicked on a page. This is the equivalent in a real world setting,” said Rajeev Sharma, founder and chief executive officer of VideoMining Corp., provider of video analytics to Food Lion, 7-Eleven, Circle K, AM/PM, Sheetz and Cumberland Farms.

The IRi shopper analytics company claims to be “a leader in delivering powerful market and shopper information.”

Immersive Labs is one of several companies that offer big data analytics systems for brick-and-mortar retailers. 

Silicon Valley startup RetailNext, for instance, uses an on-premises Linux server to collect and analyze data from a variety of in-store devices, including video cameras and point-of-sale systems. 

And the LightHaus Visual Customer Intelligence (VCI) system analyzes video from in-store cameras to measure customer traffic and engagement. The system is designed to help retailers boost their sales conversion rate — the percentage of store visitors who buy goods or services. 

As part of one study, tens of thousands of shoppers were observed interacting with a CPG company’s packaging, both pre- and post- redesign. In another, a brand marketer tested three versions of a new package to see which led to the most purchase conversions.

Sharma was not authorized to share the name of the tested brands, but said that VideoMining is conducting similar research with 26 manufacturers including Procter & Gamble, and over a dozen grocery, convenience, mass and drug chains. As part of the model, manufacturers pay VideoMining to conduct tests. Retailers like Food Lion — which has two stores with 120 ceiling cameras — don’t get any direct financial benefit from brand marketer’s research. But participation is worthwhile since they gain access to results that can help grow sales.

As part of another VideoMining test a brand marketer explored whether a display positioned beside a complementary category brought incremental sales. It turned out it did not. “We were able to very precisely tell how many people picked up the product,” said Sharma. VideoMining also analyzed how many people who picked up the product, visited the category positioned beside it. “But even if the consumer didn’t pick up the product, we tested whether the display was driving more traffic to the adjacent category.”

Similar research will be conducted across a wider geography beginning in August with the launch of VideoMining’s Grocery Shopper Insights program. It will involve 120 grocery stores across the country.

Fifteen stores will be fitted with 100 cameras, while consumer audits and intercepts will supplement video collected by a fewer number of cameras in the remainder of stores. VideoMining would not disclose the names of retailer participants, but at least 12 grocery banners are said to be in the study.

“Retailers will get access to data from their stores and the aggregate data from the study so they can benchmark their performance along key shopper metrics,” said Sharma.

Immersive Labs is about to launch sounds more than a little creepy: Face detection software that studies your face at a kiosk or brick-and-mortar store and immediately determines your age, gender, attention span and maybe even your emotions. It enables marketers to run real-time analytics on this demographic data, and even quickly change a kiosk or advertising display’s content to match the needs (or wants) of its customers.

Called “Cara,” this face detection platform is Immersive Labs’ first product, one scheduled to ship around March. Founded in 2011, the New York City-based Immersive is currently testing Cara, an “engagement platform for audience analytics,” with about 25 customers, the company’s chief operating officer Steve Lubin told InformationWeek in a phone interview. Cara is ultra-light software that turns any web camera into an intelligent sensor.

The Cara software is designed to work with any off-the-shelf webcam and PC, and it works with a variety of operating systems, including Android, Linux and Windows.

“It will work with any kind of basic hardware, nothing special is required in order to operate it. We provide the software and the analytic tools,” Lubin said.

Cara’s real-time software detects faces on the fly, and collects the kind of customer data that’s usually hard to obtain in brick-and-mortar stores, such as foot traffic and demographics. It also can monitor store entrances and endcaps (merchandise displays at the end of aisles) to determine the number of people who come to a location, how long they linger and what draws their interest.

Naturally, a face-detection system that detects age, gender and even a shopper’s attention span is bound to raise a few privacy eyebrows. But customers have nothing to fear, Immersive Labs claims.

“We are face detection, not face recognition. The only information we’re collecting is gender, age, distance from camera, attention time, what your emotions might be, glances — things like that,” said Lubin. “We don’t keep any video. We don’t store any video. We’re not sending any video. The only thing that we’re sending back to the servers is demographic information.”

How stores spy on you: 

How supermarkets get your data and what they do with it:


Nearbuy systems uses a customers smartphone to spy on you:

Nearbuy Sytems is a relative newcomer to the technology world, and is interested in the sweet spot where retail can benefit from the proliferation of smartphones across the private consumer space. I’ve talked with Nearbuy CEO and co-founder Bryan Wargo in the past about his company’s location-based mobile shopping apps (including ridiculously accurate in-store device tracking that presents various sale offers based on where a shopper is standing on the sales floor), but Nearbuy’s new Captive Portal offers functionality to both large retail environments and those too small to be interested in location services.

The premise behind Nearbuy’s new in-store guest wireless offering is simple. I log into the store wireless network through a simple captive portal, and as I use my smartphone while shopping, my activities are being logged. Add that data to my activities on different days or in a merchant’s other branches, and trends can be gleaned. Combine my usage information with that of other shoppers in an easy-to use analytics UI, and large data sets will hopefully yield valuable information about what consumers are actually buying or not, and what websites are being used for comparison shopping from the store’s own network.

One of Nearbuy’s major selling points is that it leverages a store’s existing WLAN, whether it be a one-access-point Starbuck’s or a big building supply house with many APs. Nearbuy provides an add-on captive portal appliance (or a software enhancement to existing Motorola NX appliances) in each store. The Captive Portal is shoppers’ front door to free wireless in the store. They can typically log in with an email address or social media credentials, and once terms of usage are accepted, the Nearbuy-enabled consumer connectivity experience is off and running.

Business (shopper) analytics is a $12 billion industry:
For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”
Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.
Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”




One thought on “What you need to know about surveillance cameras in stores

  1. As I stated in another article on this same subject, this is overkill. They already have RFID chips in just about all products sold these days.

    Add to that the store ‘discount’ (tracking) cards, and they know exactly who bought what, when, and where.

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