A Gradual Shift

At a time when the economic climate has America’s retailers looking for a way to leverage existing technologies for greater security, Price Chopper, a 119-store grocery chain, has done just that. Using an extensive network of analog cameras for surveillance, the chain has begun the transition to an IP-based security infrastructure with the help of Verint Systems. Price Chopper has found that the new surveillance infrastructure has enabled a greater focus on loss prevention, and a boost to its customer service and care, and the company is planning to install all-IP-based systems in its new locations.

Based in Schenectady, N.Y., Price Chopper is owned by the Golub Corporation. The grocery store chain currently operates 119 locations in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Pharmacies, in-store scratch bakeries with artisan breads, custom-cut meat shops, seafood departments with a sushi offering, full-service floral, natural and organic products, a kosher store and Super Centers are just some of the recent Price Chopper innovations. The family-owned company prides itself on long-standing traditions of innovative food merchandising, leadership in the community and cooperative associate relations. Price Chopper’s future is as promising as its distinguished past.

Price Chopper’s innovative approach to operating a business continues to resonate today. In support of the company’s ongoing loss prevention efforts, Price Chopper worked with system integrator Checkpoint Systems Inc., to design a video surveillance solution that would upgrade the aging video surveillance systems and IT infrastructure at its distributed store locations. Price Chopper wanted to address the immediate issues of video retention and retrieval times, as well as make a strategic investment and lay a foundation for future applications and technologies. “Innovation has always been at the forefront of Price Chopper’s business initiatives, and it continues to drive our vision for the future,” says John Neuberger, director of security and loss prevention.

Video Surveillance Upgrade

Although Price Chopper has long used video surveillance to help minimize shrinkage, its existing analog system was becoming out of date. The previous system consisted of analog cameras and DVRs that stored video on DVD media at each store location. It was relatively slow to retrieve and process historical footage in the event of a security incident or insurance claim.

In order to leverage existing technology, Checkpoint Systems recommended installing Nextiva S1724e 24-port video encoders from Verint Systems. The encoders helped maximize Price Chopper’s current investment of more than 9,000 analog cameras located at 119 grocery stores and the corporate distribution center. The unit is a 24-port video encoder that combines low cost of ownership with a compact, efficient design. The video server incorporates Verint’s video encoding technology for superior imagery and optimal bandwidth use. Automated camera tampering detection rapidly determines when cameras are out of focus, to help ensure that critical images are available and reduce the need to physically examine each camera on site.

IT Server and Storage Upgrade

In conjunction with the video upgrade, Price Chopper needed to improve the server and storage at its store locations. This would provide a robust infrastructure for a new digital video system as well as a consolidated platform for rapid deployment of future business applications.

After evaluating solutions from multiple vendors for both digital video surveillance and upgraded IT infrastructure, Price Chopper chose EMC’s Physical Security Solution including CLARiiON networked storage and Navisphere Management Suite for online video storage; Verint’s Nextiva video encoders, Nextiva retail software and Nextiva S2610e and S2750e IP cameras; and IBM System x servers running VMware ESX Server for virtualization.

Price Chopper previously deployed CLARiiON storage in its corporate data center, so it could easily leverage the staff’s existing training and infrastructure knowledge. EMC’s networked storage system gives the digital video system solid, scalable online storage. Reliability is especially important for avoiding system downtime and loss of video. The storage arrays can scale from a handful of disk drives to almost a petabyte in one system. It supports SATA drives for low-cost capacity and Fibre Channel and flash drives for high performance. There are a number of capabilities available for data protection and disaster recovery, such as RAID, snapshots and remote replication.

EMC’s solution and the Nextiva video management software are able to support IBM’s VMware. Rolling out VMware enabled Price Chopper to easily partition applications more efficiently using the storage platform. VMware increases server utilization and reduces its consumption of energy and floor space, and virtualization is a popular solution for reducing IT costs through server consolidation. It also simplifies management — a new virtual machine can be provisioned in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the days it takes to buy and install a new physical server.

“Throughout the selection process, we were confident in the Verint/EMC partnership,” Neuberger says.

Verint’s retail software offered Neuberger an open-platform SDK for integration with access control systems and alarms. Price Chopper can monitor all of its Lenel access control panels located at all entry and exit doors through the system to help improve operational efficiency, cut waste, protect against liability, deter theft and ensure employee safety. The IBM servers provide a flexible, cost-effective platform for running multiple applications at each store, such as the Verint Nextiva Retail software, Windows Active Directory and future applications.

Loss Prevention

The Nextiva Retail solution is integrated with Price Chopper’s point-of-sale (POS) exception system to identify suspicious transactions and help loss prevention personnel take a proactive approach to shrinkage. “We chose Verint because of their significant experience in working with leaders in the retail market,” Neuberger says. “Nextiva Retail will allow us to take a proactive approach to loss prevention and enhance our overall store operations.”

Price Chopper has already seen significant return on investment. Neuberger has been able to use video in a variety of ways that ordinary loss prevention departments would not. As an example, a customer made a purchase at one of the stores and accidentally left behind his wallet. Price Chopper was able to call the loss prevention department, and internal investigators viewed the video at the store immediately. The video showed a person pick up the wallet and immediately leave the store with it. By quickly turning over the video, the local police department was able to make an arrest and return the victim’s wallet within 90 minutes.

In another example, a customer claimed their five-year-old child was injured falling from a shopping cart. “We were able to quickly retrieve the video showing that the parent was carrying the child on their shoulders and fell off due to the parent’s negligence,” Neuberger says. Price Chopper was able to show the accident had nothing to do with a wet floor. This type of immediate video continues to protect Price Chopper against litigious accusations saving the company thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Future Expansion

Price Chopper is continuing to add new stores and update older locations. Verint’s Nextiva S2600 series IP cameras are being installed throughout the organization’s corporate warehouse, data center and corporate headquarters. The cameras deliver dual-stream, MPEG-4/MJPEG video up to 4CIF/30 frames per second. Dual streaming enables video to be viewed at high resolution with excellent image clarity, but stored at lower resolution to optimize use of storage resources.

“By giving us the opportunity to adapt 21st century technology to a nearly 70 year-old company, Verint has helped us enhance our operations and improve our bottom line,” Neuberger says.
Other camera features include high-quality CCD sensors for high resolution, high signal-to-noise ratios, and clear, crisp images. Day/night functionality and low lux sensitivity allow high-quality images to be captured in even low light.

In addition to the external S2600 series cameras, the Nextiva S2750e IP mini-dome camera will be installed in all new locations, and in Price Chopper’s headquarters. This camera is designed for ease of installation and integration, delivering MPEG-4 SP and/or MJPEG video up to 30fps at VGA resolution. Features include a varifocal, auto-iris lens and CCD sensor, enabling a wide choice of viewing angles (with 480 TVL horizontal resolution) and reliable image quality in even extreme lighting conditions. Additionally, the cameras readily change from color to black-and-white mode in day-to-night applications. 

Beyond loss prevention, Price Chopper is also considering ways to use the analytic software for improving store operations and layout, such as by analyzing customer traffic patterns. These types of activities can create more value from its investment in digital video surveillance. In the immediate future, physical security analytics are scheduled to be implemented at Price Chopper’s corporate warehouse, data center and corporate headquarters to increase security officer efficiency by handling alarms generated by the cameras quickly.

Digital video surveillance has many advantages over analog systems. It costs less to deploy and offers sophisticated analytics and video management. Rather than operate a standalone video infrastructure, digital video becomes an IT application that leverages organization’s existing IT infrastructure — like Price Chopper. And Neuberger has proven that you do not have to toss out an investment in analog cameras and monitors, because encoders and decoders can perform the translation.

Physical security and loss prevention are as important as ever, so it is worthwhile to consider how digital video surveillance is changing the footprint in other retail organizations. It is evident that Price Chopper’s innovative approach to deploying an open standards-based video platform provides them with the flexibility to apply newer technologies as they emerge.