The intelligent approach to retail crime

August 2011 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Retail (Industry)

Retailers need to cut their losses. CCTV helps cut crime, but digital cameras on IP networks will give them even more options.

Retail theft cost store owners around the world US$107,3 billion last year which is the equivalent of 1,36% of global retail sales. Retailers are finding themselves investing more and more each year to combat the problem. Last year alone $26,8 billion was spent on crime prevention.

The options available to retailers to thwart this problem are numerous. Some solutions to the problem include screening of employees and employee training, increasing the number of products in stores which are protected with electronic tags and conducting supply chain audits. However, the most effective means is that of increased investment in security. According to Professor Joshua Bamfield of the Centre for Retail Research, “the correlation between increased security spending and a global 5,6% reduction in theft is very significant.” This is particularly true with investment in systems and infrastructure.

However, it is important to be smart when making such an investment. Stores have long been fitted out with security cameras used either to deter thieves or to collect evidence to be used in the event of their capture. However, as technology develops there are more and more sophisticated solutions available. With the advent of digital technology comes a range of options.

Cameras which are connected to the existing IT network bring with them not only the benefits of digital, but the additional ones of being linked up to the IP infrastructure. This means that retail managers can have remote access to any of their store’s video, live and recorded material from any desired location, including individual devices connected to the Internet or the 3G network. The cameras can also be controlled remotely and can double as two-way communication devices when they are equipped with audio features.

Digital technology has come a long way and megapixel and HD cameras are capable of producing images of up to five times the resolution of those of analogue cameras. Cameras equipped with pan/tilt/zoom functionality allow viewers to pan around to see a full 360° of a scene and to zoom in close for a detailed view. These high quality images are indispensable when it comes to investigation and eventual evidence of theft.

It is possible to integrate IP-based surveillance systems with the store’s POS (point of sale) system. Transactions at the till can be recorded for total reassurance for the customers, business and staff. The image detail sets network video apart – such as seeing the value of a note handed over to the cashier through to the kind of item handed back.

Network cameras do not just function as purely tools to record the activity in a scene. Thanks to the IP network the retailer can take advantage of intelligent applications which are either built in to the camera or available using server software. Motion detectors and trip wires are deployed to alert the store owner when there is unexpected movement in an area or unauthorised entry.

Cameras do not just catch thieves, they tell management how well the store is working. They can give a floor manager a good picture of all store activity. The tills might record sales volumes, for example, but the cameras can now record the amount of store visitors. Stock takers can see, at a glance, the level of stocks on shelves and those in storage. Intelligent cameras can also issue a messaging prompt to staff, urging them to replenish the shelves.

There are many cameras which are particularly suited to a retail environment. For example Axis Communications has recently released the AXIS M50 Series of mini PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) dome network cameras which are one of the most affordable of their size and features on the market. Their diminutive stature allows them to be unobtrusively placed in stores above cash registers, aisles or entrances. These tiny cameras deliver HDTV quality images and are accompanied by intelligent video applications such as motion detection, heat mapping to detect people loitering, and cross line detection which sends an alert when a person enters an unauthorised area.

Not only can they be used to prevent loss at all stages along the supply chain reaching as far as the transaction at the till and the exit from the store, they can also deliver valuable business intelligence to help managers optimise sales.

In the retail industry’s war on loss, analysis seems to suggest we should pan, tilt and indeed zoom toward digital cameras.



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