We see a lot of video cameras in operation on our visits to small businesses. Before we started this project, I would not have guessed that but they seem to be everywhere. Here’s a picture of one in a warehouse we recently visited, which is monitoring valuable inventory.
We have seen video cameras monitoring employees and inventory at a car repair shop, watching over a warehouse full of cigarettes and other convenience store inventory, capturing every nook and cranny of a fish market, and in many other places. We also visited one small business that is developing camera-based security solutions for a large retailer. So video surveillance is clearly an important means of control and/or business opportunities for many small businesses (though we also talked to one store owner that prefers handwriting analysis as a test of employee honesty.)
But a recent article in the Economist magazine (click here to see the article) talks about big businesses – primarily retailers – using cameras to gather data on buyer behavior. The article gives several examples of stores that used this data to improve displays or appeal to a certain type of customer. This is potentially problematic for many smaller stores. We have spoken to a lot of retailers and other small businesses that have told us that “service” is their big advantage relative to the big stores. But if the big stores can use large reams of data gathered from cameras (and elsewhere) to tailor products more specifically to local and individual tastes, that squeezes the little guy’s advantage from local knowledge.
For at least some small retailers and other small business people, the increasing ability of big box stores and others to tailor their products means the little guys have to get even more specialized to stay ahead. Truly individual face-to-face contact and customer service is one thing technology cannot (yet) replace. So if you are a little guy, Get Personal!