Accenture Technology Labs' "Visual Shelf Monitoring" system uses security cameras and sophisticated object-recognition technology to monitor product placement on store shelves. When it detects a stock-out (no more Wheaties on the shelf, for example--something of a tragedy), an alert is automatically generated and the store can rectify the situation immediately, thereby potentially increasing sales.
The other advantage of the technology has to do with planograms. A planogram is simply a manufacturer-specified layout of products on a shelf: For example, Guinness is supposed to get one top-to-bottom column while Budweiser is supposed to get three. A good planogram will increase sales and improve margins.
In the normal course of things, a planogram is checked once in a while by the manufacturer's representative when she visits the store. With the Visual Shelf Monitoring system, that check can be done continuously---so if a stock clerk mis-arranges the contents of a shelf, both the manufacturer and the retailer can be advised immediately and the retailer can rectify the situation.
So What? Planograms are important---manufacturers pay to have retailers implement them and can become apoplectic when they're not followed to the letter. By giving them an automatic way to ensure compliance, Visual Shelf Monitoring can help manufacturers stay calm and relaxed.
Stock-outs, of course, are death. Stock-outs mean under-utilized shelf space, messy shelves, and foregone sales. Using eyeballs to scan for them isn't cost-effective: Think of Wal-Mart, which would need an army of clerks perpetually marching, wide-eyed and swivel-headed, up and down its aisles (not a reassuring sight). The other possibility---counting goods as they're added to a shelf and then counting them again as they're bought---is error-prone as well as expensive.
So it's all goodness: Visual Shelf Monitoring really does represent a revolutionary and uniquely effective approach to shelf management. If you'd like to know more, contact Accenture Technology Labs' Erick Meunier of our Sophia Antipolis, France, office, one of the people who's leading the charge in this space.