Helping retailers fight crime

How video, access control and other technologies can increase retail security


Now is a tough time for retailers. Not only are they battling a slow economic recovery, but they are also facing increased losses from theft. The recent 2009 Global Retail Theft Barometer of 41 countries, including the United States, showed that shrinkage — losses from shoplifting, employee theft and other sources — rose by 5.9 percent, the biggest increase since the survey began in 2001.

In the United States, the main problem was employee theft, which accounted for 44.3 percent of shrinkage, or $18.7 billion. Shoplifting cost U.S. retailers $15.1 billion, making up 35.7 percent of the loss. The remainder came from internal error and administrative failure (such as pricing or accounting mistakes) and supplier or vendor theft.

Many consumers pay little attention to these numbers, not understanding that retailers pass along these losses in the form of higher prices. The survey estimates that retail theft costs the average family more than $208 per year.

So what can retailers do to help control this problem? The first thing many people think of when retail security is mentioned are the tags attached to numerous items in stores. Unless removed or deactivated at the cash register, these tags create an alarm as they pass through pedestals at store exits. This technology may not be appropriate for smaller retailers or many other specialty stores; however, there are still tools available for any retailer. Here is a review of some of the technologies that have proven to be most effective in a retail setting.

Video Surveillance

Cameras are one of the most popular security tools in use by retailers. Over the past few years, cameras have become smaller and easier to install, while providing more capabilities and features. Today’s IP cameras are easily scalable and added or moved on a network system. This makes expanding a system simple and enables retailers to move cameras to other locations as needs change. Upgrading an IP-based camera is often as simple as using the network to download new software directly to the camera.

The resolution of current cameras on the market is also rapidly improving. That is especially true of megapixel cameras. Added pixels make it possible to capture valuable information such as facial detail and license plates.

Many retailers also mount a monitor showing live video at main entries to immediately let shoppers know that they will be under surveillance while in the store. This can serve as an effective deterrent to many would-be shoplifters.

Proper camera placement takes on added importance in a retail setting. It is critical to have a sufficient number of cameras, correctly positioned, to capture images from cash registers, high-value merchandise displays, entrances and loading docks. Mall operators need cameras positioned to monitor escalators and elevators, walkways, food courts and parking lots. It is best to work with a systems integrator experienced in retail operations. He or she will help with camera selection and placement.

Also, many cities across the country are considering or have enacted laws that require convenience stores, bars and other high-traffic public businesses to install camera systems to help control crime. In 2008, for example, Dallas, the nation’s ninth largest city, began requiring its 950 convenience stores to install high-resolution camera systems.

For chain stores or operators of multiple malls or shopping centers, it may make sense to monitor cameras from a central location that can be staffed with experienced loss prevention specialists. By transmitting video over secure Internet connections, corporate security staff can help monitor many locations at once. This type of monitoring makes sense in that it enables store or mall management personnel do what they do best — work with customers, employees and vendors to help maximize sales and profits. That leaves trained professionals to worry about shoplifting and other security issues. This is a situation where it helps to work with a systems integrator that has nationwide partners to accommodate retailers with a regional or national footprint.

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