After few months of pandemic lockdown, European countries are gradually defrosting their economies. The borders are re-opening, as countries try to come back to life in a sanitary way. Businesses impacted the most by the lockdown are those in the “gig” industry, living off mass events, business conferences, music festivals and public performances.
Brick’n’mortar retail industry, excluding groceries, ground to a halt and despite being re-opened is still licking its wounds, unsure if it will return to its pre-pandemic level of operations this year. The crisis situation forced stores and shopping malls to embrace an alternative approach to customer service and sales, opening the field for new technologies.
Decreases in the number of customers due to lockdown naturally result in decreases in revenues are a natural result of lockdown. The problem is that despite the re-opening, people are still afraid of going on regular shopping trips like they did before the coronavirus. On the one hand this is wise, after all, no one wants the virus to come back along with the restrictions, but for shopkeepers and shopping malls this is not a good sign. Shopkeepers are afraid that revenues will be too small to pay rent and salaries and will have to eventually close their stores. The crisis will not spare anyone, because it affects both small independent stores and large global retail chains. So how to deal with this situation?
More and more tech companies offer a number of solutions aimed at verifying customer safety e.g. temperature measurements. The use of thermovision in cameras makes it possible to catch people with fever and provide a quick response to the security officer. But is it effective in fighting the spread of coronavirus? Research shows that a person infected with Sars-Cov-2 does not need to have a fever to infect others. Moreover, most people are sick without showing any symptoms and they unknowingly infect others. Therefore, the thermovision solutions offered are essentially providing a false sense of security. According to all the recommendations of good hygiene practices, the most effective form of virus protection currently is just wearing face masks indoors.
Sick people, as well as those healthy or the ones who consider themselves healthy, should wear a mask in stores and keep a distance of at least 1.5m between them. It would be reasonable to use proper technology that identifies people with and without masks.
The 2008 crisis showed how many businesses misunderstood cost-cutting due to the crisis. Companies used to cut all possible costs, including marketing, which is still perceived by many as a cost, not as an investment. Companies have radically cut down marketing budgets, which directly led to decrease in sales. Without this, sales were poor due to lower purchasing power. This leads to a decrease in revenues, further spending cuts in the company, job cuts which only perpetuate the situation.
In a crisis situation, the marketing budget should not be cut, but requires a wiser distribution of funds. What requires fast cutting, is inefficient activities carried out blindly. Therefore, both effective forms of marketing and a tools enabling better analysis of customer behaviour, will require strengthening of investments.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not worth investing in blind activities. What if you open your eyes and see how your customers really react in the store? Many companies that advertise their products measure conversion from advertising by counting products sold in the store. This is obvious, but do such companies know how much they lose potential conversions due to e.g. poor display in the store, or an incorrectly defined customer segment?
If this is not a small family store which is run by the owner, then I bet the store employees do not make any customer analytics on their own. They don’t observe on a mass scale who is coming to the store. And even if such attempts are made by the store managers, the analytics are burdened with a huge inaccuracy and lead to further blindfolding.
Technology that uses the existing infrastructure of CCTV cameras comes to the rescue. The use of Deep Learning algorithms to analyze digital imagery is becoming more common due to the accuracy and speed of operation even in real time. The camera, which has had its eye on thieves so far, is becoming a powerful tool for in-store marketing.
No need to manually count customers on a sheet of paper, just log in to the dashboard to export the latest statistics or conduct advanced traffic analytics in a store or shopping mall.
The video from a CCTV camera can be used to build customer segments and store behavior profiles. Compared to the similar systems that count customers, but using the WiFi network, a camera has the advantage of identifying age, gender and even customer appearance features (e.g. clothing or hairstyle). In this way, you can build a more complete profile of your customers and optimize a display of goods on shelves or a storefront.
Optimizing the layout of the store in terms of shortening the time spent searching for goods on the shelf or shortening the waiting time in the queue are the basic elements of Customer Experience management, which are gaining more importance every day.
In times of coronavirus they clash: the interest of the store owner who wants to maximize revenues with the health interest of customers who want to efficiently purchase the necessary goods. How to balance these interests? Just turn into your customers, observe their behaviour and act effectively. Stop treating marketing as a cost. Invest in proper tools that can help you to better know your customers, gain their experience and help them to stay safe. Doesn’t this sound like a magical crisis resistant formula?