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Tracking Buying Patterns With Surveillance Cameras

The New York Times

By Lisa Guernsey

January 4, 2009

Most large retail stores have surveillance cameras to spot shoplifters. Why not use that video to zoom in on what your customers are drawn to and how much time they spend mulling their options before deciding to buy? "For a lot of retailers, the extent of the data they have is isolated to the statistics from their cash registers," says George Aspland, who with Scott Roberts and Adam Rodnitzky founded ReTel Technologies this year. The three received their M.B.A.'s this summer from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, a few months after winning $50,000 from the Illinois Venture Capital Association, which awards grants for best new business plans.

The company is testing a software and hardware system that extracts video data and analyzes it, providing stores with new information about how product placement and the interactions of their employees lead shoppers to make a purchase.

Video services similar to ReTel's "are very, very, very expensive," says Will Ander, a senior partner at McMillan Doolittle, a retail consulting company in Chicago. Mr. Ander, who is familiar with ReTel, believes the start-up company's software will lower the price considerably. A supermarket in Hyde Park is now testing the software.

Mr. Aspland says he is often asked: Why go to business school for entrepreneurship? How can you teach that? He sees the reverse: Why wouldn't you? "Between professors and alumni, you have tremendous resources," he says.

ReTel Technologies is using office space and computer monitors in the university's incubator; even with degrees in hand, the founders enrolled in a course on sales last semester. They are trying to kick us out of here," joked Mr. Rodnitzky, who has already co-founded two Internet companies. "But it hasn't worked yet."

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