Product over Process

Thanks for popping in to read the first post on my blog. I’m the behind-the-scenes gal on Security Technology & Design. Many of you know Steve Lasky, our editor, from his monthly editorial, The Front Page. I’m hoping to use this space as my own little Front Page, a place to discuss thoughts about security and the industry that don’t always fit in the pages of the magazine. For my inaugural post, a brief observation about retail security in practice.

Not far from my house, there’s a box store—one of those giants of retail industry that sells peanuts by the gallon and toilet paper by the cartful. Recently, this store implemented self checkout stations where its “10 or less†aisles used to be. I was ecstatic. I do a lot of shopping at this place, often stopping in for just a couple of things, and I’d always seen the self checkout as a way to turbo charge an otherwise boring and irritating trip through the cashier’s line.

At first, it was like a honeymoon. I’d pop into the store on a whim, pick up an item or two, whiz through the line and be on my way. But it wasn’t long before things began to change. I got to the store one Friday evening and the lines for self checkout extended out into the main aisle. I wondered if Friday was the universal night for technophobes to slowly and deliberately face their fears, but then I looked around and noticed that only two of the normal cashier lines were open, and their lines were also winding out into the aisles.

It took nearly 20 minutes to get through the self checkout. When I finally turned to leave, with my three items in their bag, I noticed that there was only one employee stationed in the entire self checkout bank. Eight registers, one employee.

The store only had to pay three cashiers for the evening. But they lost some customers who decided they would rather go someplace else than wait in these lines. And they certainly compromised their security.

The single employee supervising the self checkout lines was overwhelmed—running this way and that to check an ID for an alcohol purchase here, help a confused customer over there, log in to override a purchase here, call a manager for assistance over there. This employee had no time to watch for customers who may be leaving items in their carts without scanning them. Even if she hadn’t been overwhelmed, she couldn’t have easily kept track of the motions of all the people at eight registers. What’s more, the employees who man the door of the store to check receipts against cart contents were nowhere to be seen.

There are great technologies out there for every industry that can help a business save plenty of money. It’s smart business to use self checkout to decrease manpower costs. But in every industry, common sense has to play a part in technology implementations. We’ve said it again and again: Technology will not do its job unless it’s followed up with solid process and training. This is true specifically in security as well. The shiny new surveillance system isn’t worth a dime if no one’s paying attention to the monitors, or if you can’t locate an incident in your recorded archives. The smart card reader alone doesn’t stand a chance against a door prop.