Helping retailers fight crime

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


The enhanced resolution of modern digital cameras is largely wasted on a recording system still incorporating analog VCRs. Yet at the same time, DVRs, a huge step up from VCRs, are being passed by the network video recorder, or NVR. NVRs record directly to the network through servers, making it easier and less expensive to store larger amounts of data, which can be accessed for analysis and review throughout the network.

Clear, sharp video that can be easily accessed can also prove very useful if a retailer decides to press charges against a shoplifter or employee for theft. It can also help in litigation, such as slip-and-fall claims, and help settle fender-bender disputes in the parking lot.

Software capable of analyzing video to spot user-defined exceptions can be a tremendous asset for retailers. The software can be programmed to note and alarm when suspicious activity occurs, such as someone exiting through an emergency door, loitering in one place for a long time, or a large number of valuable goods quickly being removed from a store shelf.

Facial recognition systems can be placed at store entries to compare the faces of people entering the store against those of known shoplifters. Once such a person is identified, store security can ask him or her to leave or subject the person to increased levels of surveillance.

Cameras also can be used for more than just security. Once in place, they can help monitor checkout lanes to see if adequate staff is available to meet customers’ needs. That can help in keeping shoppers happier. Cameras can monitor special displays to see how the public reacts to new items or those on sale — providing valuable information regarding customers’ shopping habits. Also, a video system provides verification that store policies and procedures are being followed. For example, the owner of multiple convenience stores can remotely view each site to make sure they are being opened and closed on time each day.

Wireless mesh networks — typically found in large government installations —are now being used to transmit video and other data over large outdoor areas such as shopping malls. These systems allow for the quick and easy addition of updated cameras without the expense of cabling that is required of standard installations. Wireless transmissions also allow for live video feeds to handheld units carried by security guards on patrol and the video can be easily shared with local law enforcement in an emergency situation.

Access Control

In general, malls and individual stores openly invite as many people as possible into their space. But there are some areas where access needs to be limited. That is where access control systems can play a role. An access system can help managers to protect valuable areas, such as cash rooms, warehouses and security operations centers from the public and employees who have no business being there.

Low-Tech Security

Probably the most commonly used security measure in the retail industry is a monitored burglar alarm. A relatively low-cost system can provide protection whenever the store is closed.

Mirrors mounted in ceilings and on walls can enable store personnel to inconspicuously monitor known high-theft areas. Mirrors are especially valuable in convenience stores, where often a single employee on duty would find it difficult to watch the entire store while monitoring the cash register.

Store detectives posing as ordinary shoppers can patrol the shopping area looking for shoplifters. Uniformed security guards can act as a deterrent to shoplifting, as well as handle other security issues that may arise.

Adequate lighting, especially in areas such as parking lots and loading docks, is important. It is also important to keep landscaping well trimmed to not provide a place for criminals to hide before attacking store customers or employees. Also, smaller stores need to maintain a clear view into the premises from the street or parking lot.

The Big Picture

Retailers have many security problems not shared with other industries. All offer valuable items – ranging from food to jewelry – openly displayed to the public. Larger stores may have thousands of shoppers enter each day. Some retailers are open 24 hours a day. And few industries were as deeply impacted by the recent recession.