x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Video cameras are not only being used for security, but to gather market intelligence too.

Security cameras can help shop managers to position merchandise in effective areas. Andre Kudyusov/Getty Images
Security cameras can help shop managers to position merchandise in effective areas. Andre Kudyusov/Getty Images

Retailers are starting to use video surveillance for gathering business and marketing intelligence apart from security.

Using video analytics software and facial recognition technology, companies are now tracking customer behaviour to identify shopping habits, preferences and queuing time.

“It started off as a security factor, but the concept has been adopted by commercial people through identifying persons through facial recognition and linking to shopping habits,” said Yazan Shapsugh, a senior information security professional at Injazat.

Emaar’s Dubai Mall has more security cameras than any other mall in the world, but the developers declined to comment whether they use the technology to gather market intelligence.

Majid Al Futtaim, which owns Mall of the Emirates, uses video surveillance to monitor foot count, while Dnata, the travel company, has already employed this technology to see how long employees spend with each customer and to measure customer waiting time.

The technology is already in place in a number of airports around the world to gauge how customers spend their time after going through security and which shops they are most likely to visit at duty free.

“It can be used for business planning and collecting business intelligence, which allows you to get reports and statistics about the behaviour of shoppers,” said Maher Sbenati, the business development manager for the Middle East and Africa at Aimetis, which provides video analytics software.

This can help managers to modify the layout of stores or relocate merchandise to the most visited spots in the shop, according to Mr Sbenati.

“We presume, once this [facial recognition] technology is made commonly available, it would allow retailers to provide a unique and tailor made experience to the customer,” said Nadeem Khanzadah, head of retail at Jumbo Electronics. “This would happen when the software analyses the customer’s face while walking into the store and comparing it with an existing database of past customer profiles. If it identifies a match, then the software can be programmed to send an alert to the staff. This alert could include information regarding the customer’s last purchase, preferences, etc. It is with this depth of information, can a retailer create and provide a unique experience to the customer.

One of the biggest implications for this is privacy, which is holding back widespread application in the region. For the past few decades shops have been comparing purchase slips and receipts with names and demographics of customers to build up their own database, but the use of facial recognition technology for commercial purposes can be intrusive.

“We have nothing as such planned at the moment,” said Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer at Jacky’s Electronics. “I know someone else who has discussed it, but it has its own sensitivities here due to the local culture.”

In the West, some retailers have introduced mannequins with cameras that monitor customers in store. The Italian mannequin maker Almax supplies some European and US-based retailers with its EyeSee technology which scans and monitors shop windows or the store to help build up customer data profiles.

thamid@thenational.ae