Using innovative hardware and software to focus on what customers are drawn to and what is ignored in-store can be powerful for any size retailers. Vizualize is a leading provider of people counting systems, shopper tracking solutions, in-store audience measurement and product interaction monitoring. Retail in Asia spoke with the company’s CEO, Michael MacMillan, to learn about the power of the retail monitoring technology – how shopper intelligence solutions help retailers to track, count and analyse patterns of their consumers.
RIA: What are the latest trends in retail monitoring technology?
Michael MacMillan (MM): Actually we live in exciting times in terms of the enabling technology in retail. The physical store is often referred to as the "dark channel" as from the door to the POS, there is very little information about what shoppers do along the path to purchase. Unlike web based counterparts, most retailers do not know how many shoppers are in the store, where they go, what drew their attention or what was ignored. With the advent of smaller and cheaper computers, pervasive communication devices and use of mobile technologies, the opportunities for insight into shopper engagement has never been greater. These insights create new opportunities to increase shopper conversion, optimise costs and increase efficiencies for the business.
Add to this the ability for companies like ours to automate this analysis, understanding real-time shopper behaviour is no longer just a dream. Both bricks and mortar retailers and shoppers will both benefit enormously from the technology shift we are seeing now.
RIA: As an automated shopper intelligence solutions provider, how does Vizualize help Asia retailers in their business? Can you share some examples with us?
MM: We have a very strong luxury client portfolio and many of our clients are new entrants into the emerging markets of Asia. These retailers often don’t have anywhere near the level of information they have access to in the developed markets. Most are unsure what their typical daily traffic numbers will look like, how many staff they will need in the store, what conversion rate they should expect and whether or not their store formats and service techniques will work. Along with understanding new market demographics, traffic flows and conversions, we are often asked to measure the impact of new merchandising concepts.
A leading European luxury retailer designed their fixtures in Europe. The fixtures were replicated and installed in a selected market in Asia. Within the first few hours of opening, we found out very quickly that the Asian ladies could not reach the more popular sets of products as the fixtures were designed for tall European ladies. Our touch-point monitoring tools identified and flagged the issue allowing the retailer to localise the design for future stores.
Another major apparel retailer modified the way a "power table" was merchandised when we found staffs were spending on average four hours a day re-folding garments and this was occurring across a significant part of their store portfolio – to the point where thousands of selling hours were being wasted. Our technologies are able to separate staff vs shopper activity, which is quite unique. This type of analysis (staff vs shopper) is very helpful in Asian emerging markets where the use of a security guard for a doorman is prevalent at most luxury retailers. As the guards cannot standstill all day long, they will walk backwards and forwards through the entrance doorway creating several multiples of what the actual traffic count should be. One CEO of a luxury brand quoted the over-counting caused a 600 percent increase in one vendor’s traffic data.
We are also benefiting from assisting global luxury brands in Asia as we are now being asked to implement our solution in large projects in Europe. We are currently commissioning a store on the Champs Elyse with over 50 cameras dedicated to shopper intelligence. To put this in perspective, a typical premium shopping mall in Hong Kong will have around 50 traffic counters. For us, this is a big vote of confidence for our solution which was entirely developed here in Asia.
RIA: What gives Vizualize the competitive edge in the market?
MM: Our solutions have been specifically designed to provide in-store shopper insights. As we are retail focused, the features in our products are in large part a consequence of observing the vast amounts of shopper behaviour information we are exposed to. We process billions of shopper activities in bricks and mortar stores for over 150 mall operators, global and local retailers and brands. Our solutions can provide almost instantaneous feedback in over 40 countries. We like to think of it in terms of providing much of the richness of data that Google provides e-tailers. To do this, we can draw data from mobile, in-store sensors and digital touch points. It is the integration of this real time feedback that allows us to assist retailers in time for them to take appropriate action while the shoppers are in the store. The ability to provide timely insight – not next day, next week or next month – is something we really work hard to achieve.
RIA: When did you launch the new 3D infra-red sensor 3IRD? Can you tell us more about the system? What is the feedback from retailers?
MM: 3IRD is in use in selective locations and will be widely available later this year as a fully embedded device. The technology will not only be capable of measuring the number of shoppers but also what caught their attention, how long they spent in front of a display , if they interacted with a specific product – did they take the product or place it back on the shelf. We will also be able to trigger specific events based on the shopper’s actions including media related to the product picked up or triggering staff to attend if a shopper is looking for service. It is also capable of very accurate queue measurement. We have tested it in complete darkness where it works equally as well as in a fully illuminated environment. We have also just released this week a video based 3D sensor which we feel will be competitively positioned and provide industry leading accuracy for counting and queue measurement. Meanwhile, we will be finalising the really cool features that will be in the final release of 3IRD.
RIA: What is your advice to retailers who are looking for shopper intelligence solutions?
MM: Implementing this type of solution is often a process and for the majority of retailers, they do not yet have conversion information. So we suggest them to start by understanding conversion as a starting point. But that should not simply be restricted to a door counter as understanding conversion rate through tracking shoppers and their dwell times, as well as product interactions at key touch points, can provide significant value. Certainly this is true if you subscribe to the mantra that conversion happens within three feet of the shelf. By understanding traffic numbers and conversion you can begin to deliver significant benefits by influencing improvements that increase conversion as well as optimise costs and increase efficiencies.
For those interested in looking at more sophisticated insights like path mapping, touch point analysis and demographics, conversion information can be given at each touch point, brand or product category, as well as analyse whether a fixture or particular point-of-purchase really drives traffic and what sales might be expected. You can drastically increase your efficiencies and shopper conversion by measuring positive and negative service related events like staff to shopper interactions and queue times – all elements which impact the bottom line. If implemented in the right way, the technologies will increase your store’s performance.
Vizualize is a leading provider of people counting systems, shopper tracking solutions, in-store audience measurement and product interaction monitoring. The company’s technologies are installed in thousands of locations across 40+ countries on six continents. Vizualize’s customers consist of global retailers, brand manufacturers, media companies and large shopping mall operators.
To learn more about this company, visit Vizualize.
CEO Talking Shop is the Retail in Asia section devoted to interviews with brand CEOs and retail industry leaders.