This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Shopping malls are busy centers of commerce and entertainment, with some attracting large crowds of customers every day. Most modern malls have the luxury of being self-contained and enclosed and almost always have an on-site security presence as compared to freestanding stores or strip malls that are typically open and face a parking lot.
While the latter might be an easier target for criminals, traditional enclosed malls are certainly not immune to shoplifting, burglaries, and violence; thus, maintaining robust security in a bustling shopping mall is a critical concern for retailers and mall operators. The spike in ORC and smash-and-grab incidents targeting mall-based retailers has heightened the need to understand the distinct dynamics of securing mall-based retailers.
The Customers: Both Mall and Individual Retailers
For integrators hoping to break into or expand their retail security offerings in the mall environment, it is critical to identify the stakeholders and potential customers.
Typically, mall management is responsible for securing the parking lots and all common areas. Retailers, on the other hand, are responsible for protecting everything inside their lease lines.
Since mall security cannot be everywhere at once, retailers are on their own when it comes to securing the business from shoplifting, fraud, and internal shrink.
Managing proper lines of communication and coordination between mall-based retailers and mall operators to handle emergencies, security threats, and violent incidents is a complex task and needs to be handled carefully.
Five Recommendations for Mall-Based Security Integration
For individual businesses at malls, the day-to-day security needs can’t be covered by the pooled resource of mall security. Employee limitations, such as inadequate training and high turnover, pose significant challenges in maintaining effective security measures. And retail employees often lack the authority or training to handle confrontational situations.
This is where the integrator can bring technology options to the table. Here are a few ideas and potential integrations that can be proposed to a typical mall-based retailer:
1. Video monitoring integrated with alarms and POS systems: A comprehensive video system integrated with existing alarm and point-of-sale systems is the first line of defense as it delivers eyes on the ground in a way that employees and mall security just cannot provide.
Video monitoring systems play a pivotal role in providing a window into the business environment, but their value increases exponentially when combined with analytics and data from other sources. For example, a business can easily be losing money at the point-of-sale (POS) if it does not employ POS exception reporting integrated with video. By aggregating data from POS exception reporting with video, businesses gain actionable insights every time an employee cancels a transaction, rings a “no-sale”, or processes a refund “for a friend.”
Any time there is a transaction with no customer, retailers can easily pinpoint the exact transaction by having video tightly integrated with sales transactions.
2. Sharing of information: Because mall operations often function in silos – with individual tenants and mall owners maintaining separate security protocols and limited communication between them – it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to share important information.
Mall operators should work with managed services providers to help bridge the gaps and foster collaboration. By coordinating efforts and information sharing between mall tenants and property owners, security measures can be strengthened, and response times can be improved in critical situations. One effective example is the practice followed by the Jewelers Security Alliance at the national level, where notifications regarding perpetrators are circulated among jewelers. Implementing similar sharing mechanisms within malls would allow retailers to be aware of known offenders and enhance overall security measures.
While facial recognition technology holds promise in this regard, legal and liability considerations currently limit its widespread use.
3. Virtual guards, voice-down systems, and public-view monitors: To combat losses before they occur, it is important to focus on effective deterrents in the retail mall environment. Remote, interactive video monitoring and virtual guard services with audio voice-down capabilities can serve as force multipliers, providing additional support to employees and limited mall security staff.
With live video and two-way audio capabilities, these systems allow trained security staff to see, hear and communicate with employees 24/7. This solution guarantees personnel safety and ensures the premises remain secure. It also provides a valuable buffer between hostile actors and staff.
Virtual guard services enable remote operators to connect to live audio and video feeds and scan the location proactively for any potential threat day or night – just as an on-premises security guard might do. If there is a threat, a trained professional will immediately respond by assessing the situation and intervening with live audio. Where necessary, mall security or even law enforcement can be called.
Having automated periodic voice-down messages announcing a zero-tolerance for shoplifting provides a tangible security presence that tells would-be perpetrators to move on.
One of the simplest, but also effective deterrents a retailer can deploy is a public-view monitor that clearly displays images of customers as they enter a store. Studies by the Loss Prevention Research Council show compelling data on the efficacy of public view monitors and their impact on thwarting shoplifting and robberies. While not necessarily a high-tech solution, it provides a continuous reminder of a security presence that is easy for integrators to add to any video system.
4. Remote retail audits: Remote auditing is another powerful tool to combat shrink. It can be used to ensure operations are running as they should be and that employees are following proper procedures and safety protocols.
Audit specialists can leverage video surveillance solutions to review cash handling, employee productivity as well as safety compliance, and cleanliness. A regular remote audit can help reduce shrink and improve employee productivity by pinpointing key problem areas while delivering actionable insights with visual reporting. Employees who know they are going to be evaluated are much less likely to game the system.
5. Active shooter response: The recent increase in violent incidents, such as active shooter situations and burglaries, has raised additional concerns around mall security. It is crucial for mall owners, tenants, and security providers to work together to take a proactive approach and carefully plan active shooter protocols.
Integrators should emphasize the value of an existing interactive video or virtual guard solution when it comes to an active shooter. While a traditional alarm system may be of little use, having trained monitoring staff to actively work with law enforcement on their approach to the location has proven to be invaluable in such cases.
A remote monitoring center can provide first responders with a play-by-play of what's happening, telling them where perpetrators are, where people are moving, where the action is, and where to be careful.