Retail Security: A Complex Sale

As many security integrators are aware, the retail security market has experienced a pretty dramatic shift in the past decade, which makes selling to this huge market a trickier proposition. Retail security departments that are dominated by decision makers from the loss prevention side of the equation are dwindling. Analog cameras are reaching their end of life — and with that, a retail security operation’s need for live operators is declining as well.

Bottom line is that it will take a forward-looking integrator, entrenched in the world of IP technology and IT departments, to make inroads in the retail market. “It is just a more complex sale,” explains Chris Lesnewski, CEO of Cam Connections Inc., Lakeland, Fla., an integrator specializing in, among other things, loss prevention and retail security.


A Decade of Technology Change

One only needs to look back at the last 10 years to see the dramatic technological changes that have affected retail security. Since many big-box retailers made such huge investments in analog cameras, many of them were still tied to VCRs and multiplexers just 8-10 years ago. “A few years later, most were converted over to DVRs and higher-resolution analog cameras,” Lesnewski says. “Where they used to be 280-300TVL cameras, they went up to 500-600TVL.

“They still have quite a bit of investment in (analog technologies), and the equipment is still working. However, some of it is starting to reach end of life, and we are just now getting into that period the last couple of years where large-box retailers can start to make a change,” Lesnewski continues. “They have gotten enough ROI and lifespan out of that analog equipment, they have justified it, and now they are ready to start going to IP.”


The Impact of IP

As much or perhaps more than in any market, the transition to IP technology has created a major transformation in retail security. As retail security departments wean themselves off of analog PTZ cameras, it creates more opportunity for efficient operations.

“Many retailers surprisingly rely heavily on analog PTZ,” explains Brian Echtenkamp, western region sales manager for NVT. “PTZs generally require live operators, but today’s retailers are trying to get away from that. Operators watching cameras isn’t what they want — they can take those people out of a dark room in the back and into other places for undercover-type of investigations or looking into internal shrinkage. They are going to multiple high-resolution IP panoramic cameras, and with better technology and better forensics, they can perform investigations at a lower cost.”

“We have already started replacing analog PTZs with IP cameras,” Lesnewski confirms. “Depending on the environment, 3-4 IP cameras — placed in proper locations — can give you the same coverage. When you compare the cost of a quality analog PTZ, the mounting hardware, enclosure and controller joystick, the additional IP cameras are really much more cost effective.

“Once an end-user experiences the benefits, it is really an easy sell and transition. The biggest advantage is not needing to physically monitor the PTZ camera to get the view you need.”

As indicated, moving away from analog PTZ to IP-based technology creates greater operational efficiency. It enables retail security departments to forget about the days of searching through hours of videotape to investigate an incident; in fact, IP cameras truly become a force multiplier for retail security. It should be one of the main selling points of making the transition for those retailers who are lagging behind the adoption curve.

“It’s a lot less drain on the hours it takes to do a case,” explains Robert Bull, president of Cam Connections and member of the Board of Advisors for the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC).  “Going back 4-5 years, our retail customers had an active security agent in the store where all they basically did was monitor that PTZ and follow potential shoplifters around. IP definitely eliminates that. It’s much less stress on the operators, because they don’t have to be in two places at once — both on the floor and behind the PTZ — so it’s definitely helped with staffing and workload.

“You know that you’ve got good video to pull any time without searching for hours and hours,” Bull adds.


The Changing Role of LP

There is a caveat to the new technology — it certainly provides a ton of benefits, but it has also altered the security and purchasing roles that many integrators grew accustomed to in the retail security space.

“Retail LP has really evolved in the last decade,” Bull says. “While their primary role is still reducing shrink and exposure, they are now much more vested in the customer experience and operational excellence in their stores. We always keep this in mind when designing the systems and physically working in their stores doing service and installations.”

In the “old days,” a security integrator merely had to get the loss prevention staff on board to commence with a full security upgrade, retrofit or other installation — today, the security integrator is generally sitting in front of a retailer’s IT department.  

“Since LP departments have limited budgets, the real pitch needs to be directed at the company’s IT department,” Lesnewski says. “In reality, if it doesn’t pass their approval, the system won’t get installed. IT definitely has to be involved, and they have the final say. LP can ask for something all they want, but it has got to pass the approval of their IT department.”

That said, LP managers are still “at the table” when it comes to purchasing decisions — it is just that the final decision probably rests with someone in IT. Regardless, working with the LP folks remains an important aspect of retail security.

“They are still at the table — there are still relationships there,” Lesnewski says. “Many LP people don’t understand the IP technology and what it takes to deploy, but they certainly understand HD 1080p format — that’s what they’ve come to expect at home. They are still definitely a driver, because as the end-user’s regional and store-level LP managers and staff continue to live with their analog equipment, it looks worse and worse to them because they are seeing HD and Blu-ray at home."


Making the Sale

Thus, the security integrator must attack a retail security proposal from multiple angles — IT, loss prevention and more. Bull says that it is good to partner with bandwidth-conscious manufacturers and to leverage that in your discussions. “It depends of course on each company — we have some retailers that have tried-and-true camera location placements and our big job is basically to get the right equipment with the goal of exceeding their expectations for system performance,” he says.

Nevertheless, the proven techniques security integrators have used for decades in any market still apply to today’s evolved retail security departments. “When we get an opportunity, we research the company’s history and business model first — that way we have some understanding of their operations before we have any meetings with them,” Lesnewski says. “The biggest thing we do is listen to the client’s needs. This approach allows us to hear what is expected, implement the appropriate system, and, in turn, get repeat business from happy customers.”


Editor’s note: There’s much more to retail security technologies beyond IP cameras. Keep reading this special section to learn about further technologies that you can add to your retail sales arsenal, including: video analytics, holdup/panic buttons, verified alarms, specialized technologies for banking security and more.


Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of SD&I (