CSA Q&A: RC Willey uses technology to ensure stores follow COVID safety practices

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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A regional home furnishings retailer is leveraging an intelligent camera platform to monitor and analyze in-store compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

Operating stores across Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and California, Salt Lake City-based RC Willey is using smart camera technology to help ensure that its 16 locations maintain proper procedures related to COVID-19. Chain Store Age recently spoke with Rod Mosher, director of loss prevention and safety at RC Willey, to discuss the retailer’s experience with camera-based analytic technology and the role it has played in business recovery.

What made RC Willey decide to use intelligent camera technology to manage its in-store response to COVID-19?

When the pandemic hit, we took a close look at our business strategy and sought ways in which we could efficiently and effectively continue to operate amid strict regulations on retailers. We discovered that our existing Axis smart camera technology could help us respond to new regulations and aid in our business recovery, without having to make any new installations.

In accordance with state and local restrictions, we implemented occupancy limits across each of our stores. To help monitor and enforce these limits, we utilized our Axis Store Reporter technology and Axis 3D People Counter analytics to evaluate the number of people within our locations at any given time. The accuracy of the data provided by the Axis 3D People Counter analytic and the ability to produce reports for our building occupancy audits has been extremely beneficial. With these analytics in place, we can be confident that we are compliant with occupancy limits and be ready to produce documentation if needed.

What changes did you enact based on the data provided by cameras?

Our Axis Store Data Manager cameras provide statistics in real time that allow us to make informed decisions about staff planning, operating hours and operational efficiency. In consideration of the occupancy trends we were tracking, we discovered that certain hours of operation were underutilized by our customers.

As a result, our stores are currently operating on limited store hours, remaining open during periods of the day when customer traffic is highest and remaining closed during slower periods. With limited staff availability and occupancy restrictions, this adjustment allows us to operate in the most efficient, cost-effective manner.

How has heat mapping played a role?

We are not currently utilizing heat mapping analytics in our stores, instead we utilize Axis 3D People Counter to monitor and analyze customer foot traffic. Prior to utilizing Axis 3D People Counter analytics, we monitored the foot traffic in our stores with a system photoelectric beam. However, the information and numbers we received from this system were inconsistent and did not provide us with significant useful information.

Now, with Axis 3D People Counter, we can determine what is driving our customers to the store and what areas of the store are most visited. Our advertising team, for instance, loves this technology because it helps them measure the sales conversion from advertising and analyzes whether our advertising spend is really driving traffic to the stores. And throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this analytic has allowed us to monitor high traffic areas of our stores and prevent crowding.”

How do you plan to continue using intelligent camera technology as the pandemic begins to subside in 2021?

As an organization, we are always looking for new technology to improve our business strategy and processes, so we plan to continue to utilize Axis technology moving forward and take advantage of the wide range of analytic technologies available to us.

We will continue to utilize Axis camera stations in our distribution centers and retail stores to reduce inventory shrink. Ever since we put the technology in place, we’ve seen a significant decrease in theft and vandalism-related expenses. Additionally, while the Axis Store Reporter and 3D People Counter are currently helping us maintain occupancy levels, we plan to utilize this technology to continue to help evaluate the success of advertising campaigns within our retail stores once the pandemic subsides.

Another solution that we utilize is Axis Perimeter Defender which helps us detect the movement of people or vehicles on our property and allows us to monitor individuals who are loitering or passing through. This solution is critical in helping us deter overnight theft and vandalism. We also rely on Axis thermal cameras to detect trespassers at night and Axis network horn speakers to deliver pre-recorded warning messages in response to detected trespassers.