Capture the Elusive Teenage Demographic with Customer Counters

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Teenagers are as unpredictable as the weather—happy and sunny one hour and then clouding over with the storms the next. Teenagers are about as fickle as they come—much to the dismay of parents and teachers everywhere.

Retailers who cater to these consumers are equally baffled and have spent the last several years trying to figure out what teens want, how to communicate with this target audience and what price points are acceptable.

Teenagers are more aware

The teenage category has changed drastically over the last several years. These shoppers have grown up with technology and desire innovative, fresh ideas. They have Smartphones, iPads and iPods and they know (unlike me) how to use all of the buttons and features. Teens know exactly what they are looking for, what it costs and where to find it. They are not going to the mall to browse racks of clothes and try on endless piles of jeans– they have already gone online, shopped around, solicited opinions from their friends and made a decision.

This is bad news for traditional retail favorites like the GAP and Abercrombie & Fitch. Over the course of the last decade, it’s become more complicated to be a teen and dress a teen. If you remember dressing in head-to-toe Esprit and Aerospostale when you were in high school, you may be disappointed to hear that today’s teenagers are much more discerning. It’s no longer about the same brand for everything, now it’s all about mixing and matching to create an individual style.

Mainstays take a hit

Stores that used to be mainstays—Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerospostale and American Eagle, to name a few, are fending off some serious competition as new trends emerge.  “Fast fashion” stores like H&M, Forever 21 and Uniqlo, which specialize in taking pieces from the runway, reproducing them quickly and inexpensively and making them available to consumers, have gained a foothold. Traditional retailers haven’t been able to keep up with these changes, causing some industry observers to note than if they can’t adapt more quickly, they are going to lose their customer base permanently to those who can.

Further complicating the landscape is a shake-up at the top, where a lot of companies are seeing a change in leadership, switching out C-level executives for others and mixing things up the store level. Styles and fits that were flying off the shelves last year are no longer cutting it, so new products are being tested and stores themselves are being refreshed. As eCommerce gains momentum, teen retailers are also paying more attention to their websites and how items are marketed.

So how do we know what teens want?

Today’s teens are tech-savvy with disposable income—more than 29 percent live in homes where the average income is $100,000 are more. They are fascinated by gossip, photos and blogs and what celebrities wear helps dictate what teens want to buy. They may not be able to afford the designer gown Selena Gomez was wearing in a magazine, but a similar dress that’s available at H&M for a fraction of the price may fly off the shelves.

Tracking Teens’ Buying Habits Helps

One of the most effective ways for you to see if your marketing or product line is resonating with any target group is a traffic counting system or loyalty program. A loyalty program that is tied into the POS system will reward a shopper for their purchase and brand loyalty but also give you a goldmine of data you can use to evaluate your store’s performance. The data can tell you what your customers are buying, how often they are shopping and at what price point.

Sometimes it seems like teenage behavior is a mystery to almost everyone except teens themselves. Smart retailers should implement technology that will help them decipher teenagers’ buying habits, or they may possibly find themselves awash in stock they cannot sell and marketing campaigns that aren’t resonating.

Organized Retail Crime is Still an Issue, but People Counters Can Help

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Retail crime gangs are responsible for the theft of billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise every year. The 2013 National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Survey of 129 senior loss prevention executives at retail companies revealed that 93.5 percent of retailers say they were a victim of ORC over the past year. Even more problematic, eight out of ten respondents believe that ORC activity has increased over the last three years.

What is Organized Retail Crime?

So what are these people looking to steal? You may be surprised to hear that it’s not big ticket items like TVs, it’s everyday things like baby formula, laundry detergent, energy drinks, high-end denim, allergy medicine and cell phones.

These gangs take their ill-gotten merchandise and sell it online—a practice known as eFencing– or at a physical location, called a fence. Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware—because according to the FBI, thieves will often change expiration dates on stolen medicines or sell items after storing them improperly, putting innocent consumers at risk.

In addition to physical merchandise, a new, and more troubling practice reported by 77.8 percent of respondents is people who return stolen merchandise without a receipt in exchange for a gift card. This credit is then sold to secondary markets like pawn shops, check cashing stores and kiosks.

The top locales for organized retail crime are:

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New York
  • Northern New Jersey
  • San Francisco/Oakland

How much is it costing retailers?

These losses amount to $30 billion each year, according to the NRF. That kind of cash could buy you XM Radio, Lucasfilm, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, the LA Dodgers baseball team, Pixar and Skype — and you would still have a billion dollars left!

How can it be avoided?

These crime rings are confident, brazen operations—they are not nervous beginners that are easy to spot. Cameras do not deter them, in fact, they know they are on camera, where the cameras are located and they also know that no one is going to sit and review all of the recorded footage to try and catch an alleged thief.

“Well,” you may think, “if I see someone acting suspiciously in my store, I will ask to look in their bag before they leave.” This would eliminate a lot of problems, but the law prevents you from accusing someone of stealing or asking to check their bags. So what’s a retailer to do?

A people counting system is a good defense against ORC. People counting will help you maintain an adequate shopper-to-associate ratio, especially during peak times, sales and the holiday shopping season, so you can ensure that every customer is receiving assistance or being watched.

If your store has a fitting room, you need to be extra vigilant, because many of these crimes can happen when the fitting room is left unattended. Having a staff person or two at the fitting room monitoring the number of items and distributing numbers specifying what is behind closed doors is extremely important in deterring theft.

In 2004, the National Retail Federation released its first report about organized retail crime (ORC). ORC is an organized crime ring of shoplifters who steal items from stores—usually common household things like detergent, baby formula, premium denim, allergy medicine and cell phones—and sell  it to unsuspecting customers

Ten years later, organized retail crime gangs are still going strong and threaten retailers of all sizes, to the tune of $30 billion in losses a year. According to the National Retail Federation’s 10th annual Organized Retail Crime Survey, eight out of 10 retailers reported that they have been a victim of ORC in the last year.

So what did we learn from this year’s survey?

Retailers Are Fighting Back

Organized retail crime continues to evolve—thieves are becoming more sophisticated and brazen, so retailers have been investing more resources into fighting this phenomenon.

Seventy-four percent of the executives surveyed said they were investing more resources, including additional staff to help monitor the sales floor and dressing rooms. Even more encouraging, 34.7 percent say they are investing in better technology. This technology includes people counting systems, which is a great defense against ORC. People counting helps you maintain an adequate shopper-to-associate ratio, especially during peak times, sales and the holiday shopping season.

Investing in or upgrading your current technology is a wise move and one that will likely pay off in the future. Additional manpower means another set of eyes on the fitting room, where many of these crimes happen when the rooms are left unattended and on the sales floor, which is great. But a people counting system is always paying attention, it’s never distracted, calling in sick or chatting with a friend.

People Counting Solutions: Do Colleges’ Shiny New Buildings Hide a Secret?

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If you’ve got kids, chances are, you know college is expensive. Whether your kids are still in diapers or getting ready to graduate high school, you’re probably very familiar with the looming cost of higher education.

As the cost of a four-year degree continues to rise, enrollment is declining. In 2012, the number of students attending college fell by almost half a million people after more than 20 years of rising enrollment. One would think that higher learning institutions would also cut their costs to help attract new students, but it’s exactly the opposite.

Infrastructure is king

Across the country, colleges are building shiny new buildings for students. At the University of California at San Diego, $2 billion worth of new facilities, including a new engineering building, an addition to the school of management and several other new structures, including a parking garage, labs, an apartment and dining complex and a music center were either recently completed or in the process of planning, design or construction.

Across the US, colleges have seen a decrease in their numbers amid rising tuition rates. Shortfalls are being covered with alumni donations and endowments that are also dwindling, as people have to reach deeper into their pockets just to pay their tuition bills.

According to The Hechinger Report, since 2010, universities and colleges have spent more than $11 billion on building new facilities—twice what they spent in 2000, a boom year compared to the economic doldrums of 2010-2012.

But nothing is free

So what happens after these state-of-the-art buildings are completed and there are not enough students to fill them or pay the bills to keep the lights on? In a time when universities are looking to trim their budgets, the square footage is increasing and these new additions need to be heated, cooled, cleaned and maintained.

Some industry experts estimate that construction costs only make up a third of what it costs to maintain a building over its lifetime. When you add in repairs and maintenance, the bills skyrocket.

At the University of California at Riverside, there were two buildings planned for a new medical school. One of the buildings was built and the other had to be delayed because there wasn’t enough money in the budget to run both, causing the opening of the medical school to be pushed back.

Despite anecdotes like this one, the building boom is not going to subside anytime soon because a university relies on state-of-the-art facilities and comfortable buildings to help them attract students. But colleges can be smarter about how they plan and optimize new buildings to make sure they are used to their fullest potential.

Do we need all of these buildings?

Universities that want to control their spending and trim operating budgets can use people counting technology to help them plan and use these new structures so they don’t have a campus full of buildings with each one operating 50 percent capacity.

Schools can also use this technology to help them map trends in other buildings for future planning. If a new residence hall is in the planning stages, traffic counting can help architects and engineers plan the building so it will be utilized to its maximum potential. This is especially important when considering operating budgets because a building with a lot of wasted space still needs to be maintained.

Traffic counting technology should also be employed in gathering places, like university libraries, student unions and dining halls. By tracking peak hours and shifts, universities can ensure they have each location appropriately staffed and that they are not overbuying food products for dining halls or other items needed for their day-to-day operations.