An insider eye on retail security

March 2018 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Asset Management, EAS, RFID, Retail (Industry)

It’s one thing to hear about all the potential solutions there are for improved retail security, but what happens on the ground where people deal with other people on a daily basis? Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to the security manager of a multinational retailer based in South Africa about the issues he deals with keeping the various brands and stores within the group secure.

For security reasons, the security manager asked to remain anonymous and we will simply refer to him as John in this article.

When asked what the main security issues retailers in South Africa are facing today, John says the main issues are actually easily solved overall. However, what these issues are depends on the retailer, where they are, and what they are taking to market.

The items that are high on the list of desirables are those that are small and easy to sell. For some companies, this will mean cellular phones and accessories, for others it could be cigarettes or razor blades. All of these have a waiting market for the criminals and will empower them to turn a profit quickly and easily – hence their popularity.

The primary threat in terms of theft does not come from shoplifters who slip things into their pockets or bags, however, the biggest losses occur because of internal theft. Employees and their associates are the biggest source of loss to retailers in South Africa as well as most countries in the world. The reason for this is that an outsider will slip an item into their pocket and walk out, but an insider will steal a box of those items.

The fact is, no matter what the retailer does, there always seems to be an opportunity for those less ethical individuals to make a move and steal something. As soon as the security manager stops one form of theft, criminals find another way.

“Retail security is therefore far more than the simple implementation of gates and guards,” John says. “In retail, you want as many people as possible to come into your store, you want to display the products they want and you want them to touch and interact. You therefore need another way to protect your goods.”

Opportunity knocks

To start devising processes of protecting your goods, retail security teams must first understand why people steal. John says there are two general reasons.

The first is when the opportunity presents itself because of poor and unmotivated guardianship of the items the individual wants. They randomly see a gap and they feel sure they can get away with it. These are random acts that are spurred on by the circumstances.

The second is the choice theory. The individual wants to get their hands on the goods and weighs up the chances of getting the loot and getting away with it according to whichever plan they feel will succeed. They are also spurred by poor security and poor responses to theft. For example, if thieves are not prosecuted, the downside of being caught is so much lower. If they are prosecuted and suffer the humiliation of their families and friends knowing they are criminals, this may deter many from grabbing an opportunity.

Retail security depends on the security manager and their team’s ability to make sure opportunity doesn’t knock for the criminal.

John says the solution is for the security team to understand that people don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect. The way to remove theft prospects is to continually inspect all aspects of the business to make sure the windows of opportunity the greedy fingers are waiting for don’t appear.

Technology benefits

One of the ways to continually inspect is by regular, instant stocktaking. John does not suggest stocktaking manually as happens in so many industries, but using RF technologies to make stocktake faster and accurate. Employees can simply walk down an aisle and get stock readings with a handheld device. These RF technologies don’t replace EAS solutions already in use, but add significant value. The store will know in near real time when items are missing.

These stocktakes will also assist in recording conversion rates by showing what products sell better than others. This allows the retailer to place orders for more stock of goods that are actually selling well. Knowing what is on your floor at all times is extremely beneficial to management when used in conjunction with other technologies such as people counting.

The combination of these ‘security technologies’ allows the retailer to know when there will be more people on the floor to ensure the stock that sells is available when the customers want it.

As has been mentioned in other articles in this retail feature, the solutions installed to improve security can also be used to benefit the business. With these technologies, when you have better stock and people control, your conversion rates go up.

However, John warns that the design considerations of security technologies are crucial to successful security. When it comes to surveillance in stores, for example, putting cameras on the ceiling is pointless as criminals know they are there and wear caps to avoid them. He suggests that surveillance cameras must be set at 1.5 metres above the floor to ensure clear images of people’s faces are captured.

He also believes audio is a key element of the security plan. The ability to listen in to what is happening on the shop floor delivers benefits, as does being able to speak to a night-time burglar, for example, to let them know they are under surveillance. The same audio technology can be used to guide armed response or police officers to the criminals, which the surveillance team in the control centre are watching, preparing the officers for what they will soon be facing.

The use of intelligent video analytics is also key in closing down the windows of opportunity. If your cashiers’ tills balance at the end of their shift, most retailers are happy. However, using analytics that is easily available can address the sweet-hearting issue automatically. This will, for example, tell store managers that one particular cashier is responsible for 90% more refunds each day than the average – which is something to investigate.

The human element

In all this, John says it is also crucial for the security manager to remember the human element. Staff need to be trained to notice and report on anomalous behaviour, as well as how to react to certain instances.

For example, many syndicates beat EAS tags by bringing foil or foil-lined bags into stores which hide the RF signals from the tags on stolen items as they leave. John says that when a turnstile detects a foil bag, a silent alarm can notify employees who can then approach the person, make eye contact and ask if they need assistance.

Having been noticed, most people will abort their plans and leave the store without stealing anything. If the bag is being carried by a normal customer, they will simply be impressed at the level of service and personal attention they receive.

On the topic of being noticed. Another tactic is to avoid having your windows cluttered with products and to bring your till points closer to the front of the store. If criminals launch an armed robbery, they want to remain as invisible as possible to ensure they can make a clean getaway.

With uncluttered windows and till points close to the windows, the chance of someone seeing the crime in progress is much higher, meaning a passer-by might be able to raise the alarm and the police could be waiting outside when the robbers leave. And despite their bravado, engaging the police is not something criminals consider to be in their best interests.

Additionally, making staff feel like part of the team and not a grudge expense helps in gaining their loyalty and trust, and also their commitment to the company and its success.

Guns blazing

An important part of the human element is also the reaction of security staff to incidents, whether they are simple shoplifting events or armed robberies, or even riots. There are four types of guards required in a retail environment. John says that some of these can be drawn from guarding companies, but others need specialised training and are trained either in-house or at specialised firms.

The first are the guards on the floor in uniform who are faced with the unpleasant task of searching people at turnstiles and so on. John says the ideal is for these guards to work outside the storefront, as you can’t arrest a shoplifter inside the store. When the surveillance cameras or an alert member of staff notices something, they can alert these guards to stop the person once they have left.

The second guards are more specialised covert loss-prevention officers. They are in plain clothes and wander around the store looking for potential thieves ‘under the radar’.

The third type of guard is a different breed altogether. These are the response officers who need to be trained in more aggressive tactics and may even have to face armed criminals. These are also sometimes hard to use sometimes because malls generally don’t let them onto the premises in reaction to an alarm, and the mall responders are sometimes less than helpful.

The fourth group of guards are specialists in protecting retail venues from riot damage. John says you can’t just assign any guard to watch thousands of people having a demonstration or riot. These guards need specific training and the type of personality that can manage these high-stress situations.

Retailers that make use of security service providers need to ensure their chosen partner is able to deliver as required and to meet service-level agreements no matter what happens. It is also necessary to share information and interact with the authorities and related parties to try to use information for the security of the retailers’ assets, stores, people and customers.

Understand and plan

At the end of the day, the first task for retail security managers is to understand the risks they face. These include the many ‘normal’ security risks retailers face, but also include other risks not normally included in the security portfolio. Once you know what you’re facing, you can plan and prepare your teams to deal with the situations as they arise, and also be sure of measured reactions if something unexpected happens.

Retailers need an holistic approach to security, John concludes, but the retail approach is different to most security approaches. It’s not an out-of-the-box solution, but must be tailored to the store and its environment. And it is an ever-changing risk profile that requires vigilance and a strong team supporting the business.


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