Some business models sound like the premise of a Monty Python skit. This one comes from Britain and is aimed at small shop owners looking, as McGruff would say, to take a bite out of crime. The firm in question is Internet Eyes and it tries to turn busting shoplifters into a game. Here is how the Wall Street Journal describes the venture (Web-Based Amateur Private Eyes Enhancing Store Security, Nov 15):
Internet Eyes is meant to help small stores that have CCTV installed but that lack the manpower to monitor the video feeds constantly. The idea is simple. For a £1.99 monthly or £12.99 annual membership fee, anyone within the European Union can sign up to watch closed-circuit video feeds from randomly selected shops in the U.K. from their homes.
When a member sees someone attempting to shoplift, he or she presses a button, alerting the store owner, who assesses the situation and awards the user points, depending on whether it was a false alarm, suspicious activity or a crime in progress. Internet Eyes sweetens the deal by offering a prize of £1,000 to the month’s top point-scorer.
Having viewers pay a membership fee weeds out pranksters and troublemakers from the site, says Tony Morgan, founder and managing director of Internet Eyes.” We get people that really want to fight crime in this country, not just voyeurs that just want to press the button,” Mr. Morgan says.
That’s right: People are essentially paying for the opportunity to play rent-a-cop in the privacy of their own home. As the video below shows, this is not the most scintillating TV out there.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
It is also worth noting that the shopkeepers also pay (£75 per month) to participate. So Internet Eyes has two sets of customers. Its users who watch the video feed in hope of winning prizes and its store owners who provide the video feed.
The thing I like about this story is that it is an interesting example to think about in the framework France Frei puts forward in article “The Four Things a Service Business Must Get Right” (HBR, Apr 2008), one of my favorite service management articles. These guys have a unique offering to both the store owners and the watchers. They have a clever way of funding the business based on collecting from both sides. I can see where this service has the potential to create value for the store owners. They have invested in the closed circuit cameras but without someone watching in real time they may do little to stop petty theft. Whether the average British convenience store is subject to £75 per month of petty theft, I don’t know. But clearly at some price it would be worth it to subscribe.
The real challenge is managing their watching customers as employees. They need to them to be diligent enough to create value for their shop owning customers. That seems to be the weak point of the business. The more people who sign up for this service, the harder it will be to win. On the other hand, a hard-core user with a strong tolerance for tedium could outlast those who sign up on a whim. The question is whether there are enough hard-core tedium lovers for Internet Eyes to have a significant group of watchers over the long haul.