When a retailer has stores spread across the width of a continent, it makes sense to have network-connected surveillance cameras that loss prevention and other key executives can remotely access.
That was one of the benefits that Toronto-based Indigo Books & Music was looking for as it began upgrading from an analog surveillance system to a high-definition surveillance system two years ago.
Indigo’s stores, which range in size from 1,100 sq. ft. to 53,000 sq. ft. and operate under the Indigo, Chapters and Coles banners, are scattered across 10 provinces and one territory, from Victoria, B.C., all the way to Newfoundland. “Canada is much larger than the U.S.,” says James Slessor, Indigo’s vice president of loss prevention. “One of the biggest challenges I have is the distance between locations and markets.”
Although Indigo’s legacy analog cameras worked well enough to reduce shrink, travel expenses and fraudulent lawsuits, there were “drawbacks,” says Slessor. The images were not “as clear as later-generation high-definition cameras could deliver.”
Additionally, transmission of images was “slow and took up too much bandwidth which was needed by our other departments. One of my challenges was [viewing] videos in great detail over our Intranet without our IT people calling me up and asking me to drop my camera surveillance because I was slowing down the registers.”
A ‘win-win’ situation
Avigilon’s surveillance platform with High-Definition Stream Management, which Indigo is rolling out in phases, has given the chain “a platform that is a miser with bandwidth,” Slessor says. “It’s feature-rich. It has great compression. It gives us more storage space. It’s much more robust.”
“Metaphorically speaking, it’s like squeezing video information from a grapefruit down to the size of a grape ... We get more information in greater detail with less demand on our network. We can zoom to a much greater degree now and still have great definition. It’s great performance management. It’s better at everything we require.”
Avigilon’s high-definition cameras are currently installed in six stores and both of Indigo’s distribution centers. Slessor has a server in each of those locations and uses a disseminated video transmission system, which means that the cameras in each location send their feeds to the server at the individual location, as opposed to a server at a central location.
“So we are not actually taking bandwidth out of each building,” he says. “We are not taking up vast amounts of storage and bandwidth space.”
In the parking lots of the two distribution centers, Slessor says he is “able to clearly read license plates and people’s faces. We once had people breaking into our cars in the parking lot and we were able to pick off their license plate numbers and identify the people doing it. With analog cameras, you see shadows. You don’t get enough depth of field and clarity to see so clearly.”
In conjunction with POS exception reporting software, Slessor finds transactions “that require a closer look via CCTV by LP investigators.” Canadian paper currency is colored differently according to denominations, and the LP team can see the color of the bills being handled at the POS. “So with the right camera and the right angle, I can see what someone is putting in their pocket,” he says. “I know the bill, the denomination. From an evidentiary point of view, it helps a lot.”
Bryan Schmode, Avigilon’s executive vice president of global sales, notes that one retailer using its HD surveillance platform collaborates with local police, who share with the retailer the license plate numbers of stolen cars.
Since Avigilon’s forensic security software can be programmed to automatically have cameras search for variables that include the letters and numbers in license plates, this retailer uses the Avigilon platform to identify stolen cars in their parking lot. When they find one, they call the police.
“People who steal cars also steal merchandise,” Schmode says, “so it’s a win-win for both sides.”
The Avigilon system is optimized for fast connectivity and requires much less bandwidth and storage space than was available previously through their Intranet. “It’s instant information,” Slessor says. “It’s as fast as my Intranet. There’s no lag time. No call-up time. No hesitation in replaying my videos.”
The system’s forensic search capabilities are “phenomenal,” he adds. “They allow me to drill right down almost to the minute of any day.”
That’s because the forensics search software, Avigilon Control Center, can do “advanced pixel searches,” Schmode says, which can detect changes in motion on a video so an investigator does not have to spend hours looking for the moment when an item has gone missing from a shelf or display.
“The less time an investigation takes, the more time and money a retailer saves,” says Schmode. “Our Avigilon Control Center software takes the task of searching from maybe ... 10 hours down to just minutes.”
Avigilon’s Control Center software, he adds, can be coupled with older systems “so retailers don’t have to replace legacy cameras.” He says coupling also “improves the video quality of legacy camera surveillance systems” while ensuring the company will be prepared when they’re ready to upgrade to a newer system.
If Slessor has something he does want to monitor live at a location, Avigilon’s software makes it possible to compress the bandwidth so he can “frugally sit and watch it live without it impacting my network. You’re able to take immediate action when you see something illegal live vs. following up post-incident.”
To manage investment costs, Slessor put the HD cameras in “key areas” like the main aisles, entrances and exits, checkouts, receiving and in high-risk departments like electronics, gifts and the more expensive sections of Indigo’s book department.
Greater access to images
Indigo has primarily done away with its old non-operator controlled pan/tilt/zoom cameras. An overview HD camera, Slessor says, “can look at about 40 percent of our sales floor, our center aisle and main thoroughfares, and from there, we can zoom in to areas of interest with very good definition.”
A large-format store of approximately 25,000 sq. ft. will typically run about 16 HD cameras, Slessor says. There are 48 HD cameras in the larger retail distribution center and 16 in the online distribution center.
Installing the system was fairly easy, since a lot of the heavy work — wiring, cables, trenching and pole installation — was done with the previous installation of the analog system. Indigo’s security integrator Quinn Digital handled the Avigilon installation, which typically took two nights per store.
The learning curve was also “very quick” since the system is “very intuitive and easy to learn,” Slessor says.
With the analog system, Slessor says he has to close one camera file before opening another to see what was beside the image in the first file. “With Avigilon’s system, I can have multiple folders open and I just flip back and forth as I would with Excel folders. As I capture snippets from each, I can record them on a DVD as a story and e-mail them directly to the police or to someone else in the company with phenomenal image quality.”
Since the HD cameras and software are running on Indigo’s Intranet, Slessor can provide store designers, construction personnel, merchandisers, store operations and store managers access to select live images from the general floor cameras. The layout, design elements and merchandising presentations can be reviewed, he says, “to ensure we offer our customers the very best experience.”
All the cameras are motion-activated, with adjustable levels of sensitivity. Motion activation can also be set to ignore things like movement on the sidewalk outside the front door camera.
Since it began using the HD cameras, Indigo’s “shrink numbers are getting lower,” Slessor says, and “we’re also able now to do more with less. We’re able to focus on other things because the camera surveillance is easier, faster and more efficient.” Generating ROI with the Avigilon surveillance system “has been very, very easy. We reduced shrink even further and we are saving on phone calls, time and travel.”
Indigo will add the system to more existing stores each year, “and every new store we open will have this system,” he says. “We’re very excited about it.”