How often do you view your surveillance video? If your answer is typically only after an incident, when you need to see what happened, then you are not alone and should keep reading.
While many convenience store owners would answer exactly the same way, a growing number are turning to intelligent video to boost their competitive edge and margins.
An intelligent video solution integrates surveillance video with point-of-sale (POS) transactions, optional analytics and even data from RFID tags. It then combines the most relevant data in convenient email reports and alerts that help you see what’s happening in your c-stores and where there's room for improvement.
Intelligent video enables store owners to reduce losses, increase revenue and improve operations dramatically.
Here are just a few of the many ways c-stores are leveraging intelligent video solutions today:
1. Loss Prevention
Prepaid Fuel Voids
Losses connected to voided prepaid fuel transactions at the gas pumps are a common concern among c-store operators, as it's typically a time-consuming process to determine whether the customer actually filled up or not. This is where the combination of video and POS receipt data really shines, enabling operators to set up a report that will automatically provide a list of all voided prepaid fuel transactions along with links to the associated video.
The solution eliminates the need to comb through hundreds of recorded receipts each day to find the voided transactions you’re looking for. It also makes it easy to review the recorded video to see if the customer actually pumped gas, and if an employee received the payment (and perhaps pocketed it later after voiding the transaction).
Gift/Phone Card Activation
Similarly, an intelligent video solution can reveal instances where gift cards or phone cards are being activated without a customer present. This might mean that more employee training is needed, as most c-stores make it a policy never to activate cards for customers over the phone. In other cases, it might uncover intentional fraud, in which case an owner can use the solution to review other transactions by the same employee to confirm whether this was an isolated incident or is a pattern of behavior.
Skimmer Detection at the Pump
The ability to proactively detect the installation of a credit-card skimmer at one of your gas pumps can reduce losses and also ensure your business’ reputation remains intact. Customers will avoid filling up at locations where there’s been such an occurrence, so it’s critical that c-store owners remain vigilant — otherwise, the damage to your business could extend well beyond the initial theft.
An intelligent solution that integrates video with a presence detection analytic and POS data can alert you to instances where someone is standing at a gas pump without conducting a transaction or when the pump door is opened. While this might not always be a case of skimmer installation, it takes just minutes to remotely verify what’s taken place. If a crime has occurred, you can contact someone onsite to shut the pump down immediately before your store — or a customer — becomes a victim of theft.
2. INCREASED REVENUE
Average Ticket Size
As most c-store owners know, one of the keys to success is increasing the amount customers spend per transaction. If you can get each customer to spend $11 instead of $10, for example, you’ll see a 10 percent increase in revenue without any additional labor costs. Apply that amount across all transactions and locations, and the impact is significant.
Intelligent video can help boost average ticket size by providing you with insights into where you might be missing sales opportunities. Via daily reports that combine POS transaction data with thumbnail images, it can highlight things like out-of-stocks, popular items that should be near the registers to maximize upselling opportunities, or promotional signage that’s not where it should be and is therefore being missed by customers.
Along the same lines, providing great customer service is critical to sales and repeat business. You can’t be physically present at your c-stores all the time, so having the ability to remotely monitor your locations is a clear advantage — as long as you can do it efficiently.
No one has time to sit and watch live video, or review hours of recorded video. What intelligent video does instead is highlight the customer service areas you want to review most often. If you’re concerned about the amount of time customers are waiting in line, a report combining video and a queue length analytic can list all wait times that exceed your accepted limit.
Other reports combining data and video snapshots can show you if your stores are clean and tidy; if employees are dressed appropriately; and if all your stores opened and closed at the right times. It can also highlight instances where employees’ focus shifts from customer service to other tasks, such as on "truck days" when getting merchandise on shelves might unintentionally interfere with helping customers.
3. IMPROVED OPERATIONS
Using intelligent video for operational purposes goes well beyond what many c-store owners might consider because it can touch so many parts of the business.
The sale of regulated items (cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets, etc.) is often a top priority for owners who understand the value of demonstrating compliance with state regulations and are also acutely aware of the reputational and legal damages that a failure to comply can entail.
One c-store customer I worked with had their beer license suspended following an accusation that they had been selling alcohol to minors. Using data from their video solution, we created a report that listed each regulated sale. Filtering the resulting data by employee revealed that one cashier had been entering the same birthdate for every beer sale, rather than getting each individual's ID and entering it accordingly.
Once the owner understood the situation, he was able to speak with the employee, who was otherwise a good worker, to emphasize the importance of that information. In the end, the business corrected the issue, retained a good employee, and was able to weather the suspension as well as the potential reputational damage it might have suffered.
Health & Safety Compliance
Safety committees and/or human resources (or the owner, if he or she wears all of these hats) can also use intelligent video to view daily snapshots of areas within the stores that are most relevant to their work.
If a c-store's policy is to place mats in front of doors because the floors are otherwise slippery, intelligent video can confirm that’s happening. Or if employees are supposed to wear orange safety vests when working outside to pick up lots, change trash cans or check fuel levels, an operations audit report can easily show whether that policy is being followed, turning the technology into a preventative tool that mitigates risk to your business.
Another area where intelligent video can save c-stores time and money is through regular remote "inspections" that can replace frequent onsite visits. These visual tours can reveal issues such as broken floor tiles, trip and fall hazards, burnt out lights in parking lots and similar problems — which can easily be addressed by maintenance personnel, who also have the advantage of arriving onsite prepared with everything they need to fix the issues.
WHAT'S YOUR APPLICATION?
In the end, the most exciting thing about intelligent video is that the applications are almost endless.
Each convenience store owner knows his or her business best, and almost always comes up with a use that’s unique to their operations. Certainly, intelligent video enables c-store operators to improve profits by providing them with valuable loss prevention and operational tools, and highlighting areas where customer service can be improved.
Douglas Montgomery is a security and loss prevention expert. He is manager of customer ROI at March Networks, a global provider of advanced video surveillance and video-based business intelligence solutions. Montgomery has more than 30 years of experience working with international corporations and franchise units spanning the restaurant, convenience store and retail banking sectors.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.