The Missed Potential in Conversion Cameras

“It’s funny how much you pace when you are on the phone,” my district manager Auburn let out a quick laugh as I made my way through the checklist of topics to cover on our sacred weekly calls.

“I forgot you could see me,” I spoke half laughing, half uneasy.  I felt like a specimen in some sort of human behavior observation room.  I glanced up at the camera, my version of a one-way mirror.

When it was first announced we were the only store in the district receiving cameras, I had been told it was strictly for loss prevention, an ever losing battle at my store in Lubbock, TX.  “You don’t want security cameras,” my old manager Gary had warned, “they tell you it’s to watch for criminals, but it’s just another tool under big brothers belt.”

He was long gone, but that statement resonated with me as they installed 12 cameras in this small mall location.   “You don’t need to go there,” I had told one of the crew members, “that’s the back room.”  The crewman gave me a crooked grin as he pursued his quest, just following orders.

With these cameras came the conversion counters, “and now I want you to convert at least 20% of the people that walk in that front door into shoppers,” Auburn was now telling me as she watched me restock a box of patchouli oil.

The cameras were supposed to be the top of their line, able to detect height so to weigh out children…and midgets.  So It tracked the body count and it even tracked the weather outside.  What it didn’t track was mall rats that came in and out my store at least six times on a daily basis.  It didn’t  track ages or demographics.  And it definitely did not track criminals.

“Oh my God,” Michelle, my assistant, hollered on the phone later that week.  I just caught a couple try to lift like five hundred bucks worth of clothing by hiding in the front window display!  Can you believe that, what morons, right?!  Anyway I chased them out of that store, ripped the Abercrombie bag they were using out of their hands and said, “We have cameras you idiots!”

My stomach churned, I had seen the camera quality, it was so blurry I didn’t know sometimes how it could differentiate between a couple holding hands, and quite honestly, if they were close enough, it couldn’t.  I wondered why the company had wasted so much money in a tool that merely baby sat who spent the most time hanging out behind the register, or who made the most frequent trips to check their phone in the back.

I hated the wretched things.  Luckily our store was so busy that we never really had time to worry about them.

A year passed and I found myself in a new store location.  This store was far smaller and I almost never had customers.  I suddenly found myself longing for a conversion counter to show I’d earned my sales of fifty dollars that day two-fold with the one customer I had walk in the door.

I found myself standing on stools on an hourly basis, sending in email after email of my empty store.  Suddenly I missed the camera system, I missed having that security blanket of understanding.

I began to think, perhaps conversion counters aren’t necessarily useless, but more wasted on the immature stunted business minds of retail middle management.  Technology is in a way now that there is no reason that the conversion cameras don’t have the capability to be upgraded to come to a close approximation of not only determining couples from people, and children from midgets, but further more to decipher men from women as well as approximate age groups.   There is no reason that that same system can correlate with the POS to show the most desired items for each demographic in that store location, during that particular season.

There is no reason the accounting department can’t utilize them to go back and try to investigate uneven registers.  Or Logisticians can’t utilize these facts and figures to develop a stronger algorithm blended with the area demographics to eliminate the possibility of stale, unsold product.   What if the district and regional level managers took the time to see where associates lacked training on the sales floor, and where they excelled they could personally tailor training material for each individual location.  And perhaps if the cameras were focused, and the streaming power was strong enough we could actually put an end to store theft, because we could have footage worthy of posting and putting an end to shoplifters.

If retailers had taken the budget they waste on pointless tools and towards developing something actually useful, and then hiring upper management that had the ability to find the best methods of utilization for these technologies they perhaps would not be going out of business so quickly because they would have been proactive as opposed to reactive.  But you know, what do I know?


Until Next Time Fanboys and Girls…


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