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Inventive Ways to Use Surveillance Systems


From the Swiss Army knife to the automatic coffee maker/alarm clock to the smartphone, we are all drawn to the convenience of things that serve a multipurpose. So, why should convenience stores, the embodiment of satisfying multiple needs in a one-stop shopping experience, settle for surveillance systems that only serve a single purpose? The answer is: they shouldn’t.

Today’s video technology has come a long way from the fuzzy “eyewitness” images of yesteryear. With high-definition television, megapixel resolution and intelligent video analytics, surveillance systems have matured from simple theft deterrents and forensic evidence tools into gleaners of critical business intelligence that can help c-store operators improve overall operations and the bottom line. For example:


Heat mapping paints a picture of the “hot” areas in your store where most of your foot traffic occurs. It’s a quantifiable way to calculate the value of one area of the store over another and potentially charge consumer packaged goods (CPG) vendors a premium for specific floor space. Heat mapping can also show c-store operators whether or not their planogram is effective.

Another insight retailers can gain from heat mapping is the location of “cold” areas of your store where shoplifting could more easily occur due to less foot traffic.


License plate recognition lets retailers catalog and search video based on a string of numbers and letters captured by the camera. C-store retailers can maintain a database of those license plates for future action. For example, a retailer can receive an alert when a known offender who tends to drive off without paying for gas pulls up to the pump. Or the store manager can receive an alert when a regular customer with physical disabilities pulls into the parking lot and send a store associate out to provide some extra assistance.

On the one hand, license plate recognition can help to stem losses. On the other hand, it can assist in fostering goodwill and cementing customer loyalty.


Facial recognition captures customer data such as gender, age and even mood as they walk in the door. This is valuable information to share with CPG vendors as they vie for space in the c-store.

Retailers can also leverage this data to their advantage in other ways. You can create a database of known offenders and receive an alert as they approach your store. This advanced warning might give staff precious seconds to assess the situation and respond according to operational plans. Or you might use facial recognition to identify that loyal customer who comes in every morning for a coffee with two creams and a powdered doughnut and have their order ready to go as soon as they walk through the door.


Dwell time measures the amount of time a person remains in a single location. Are people just hanging out in front of the c-store? Are they lurking out of sight of the store associates? With dwell time, analytics cameras have the intelligence to identify and alert c-store managers to a potential situation without endangering an employee by having them perform a walkthrough.

C-store retailers can share dwell time data with their CPG vendors to show that a particular display is getting a good bit of attention and “dwell.” Retailers can also use this technology to alert managers that lines are forming at the checkout so they can take steps to increase throughput and improve customer service.


Video analytics have reshaped the c-store surveillance landscape from passive recording to intelligent business insight. I’ve touched on just a few examples of how these new multipurpose tools are being used today. What new analytics will be on tomorrow’s horizon is anybody’s guess. But with an Internet protocol video solution based on open systems and interoperability, c-store owners will be able to continually reap the enormous benefits of these smart applications now and in the future.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

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