Surveillance in retail an absolute essential

This past June, an incident on the isle of Canna in Scotland generated a fair amount of media coverage around the world (CNN, TIME & BBC): thieves broke into a local store and made away with six beanies, assorted candy bars, coffee, biscuits and some batteries.

Theft from stores pretty much everywhere else in the world is so commonplace that shrinkage is an anticipated part of doing business, so it seems ridiculous that such a parochial incident should become an international media story. But the reason this crime was reported so widely is because the last incident of crime in Canna was the theft of a wooden plate…in the 1960s.

Sadly, shrinkage in the U.S. is on the rise. In 2014, shoplifting apprehensions at U.S. retailers rose 7.4 percent, while dishonest employee apprehensions rose 1.7 percent on the previous year, according to loss prevention and safety specialist Hayes International, which released its 27th Annual Retail Theft Survey in June. That’s more than 1.2 million shoplifters and dishonest employees apprehended last year by just 25 of the largest U.S. retailers and $225 million, according to Hayes. A June survey by the National Retail Federation further revealed that those recoveries represent the tip of an iceberg with light-fingered employees and customers in the U.S., racking up $32 billion of shrinkages annually.

The reasons for the continued rise in shrinkage are complex. Hayes International suggests organized retail crime is increasingly big business: stolen merchandise is getting easier to sell, retailers are reducing the number of sales staff on the shop floor, and shoplifting is viewed as low risk/non-offensive crime. All of these factors need to be considered against the backdrop of a continued stagnant economy where the impetus for some people to steal is also heightened.

It is beyond the scope of a retailer to “fix” what are a broad set of socio-economic reasons for the rise in shrinkage. Adding more staff to the shop floor might help, of course, but staff costs money, and with margins in bricks and mortar retail under increasing pressure from online outlets, adding to the wage bill is not an option for most.

This is where technology comes in. Most large retailers and plenty of smaller stores already employ anti-shoplifting technology such as electronic article surveillance tags, ink/fluid tags, merchandise alarms, product tie-downs, bulky packaging and of course CCTV. The visible presence alone of such technologies can act as an inhibitor to casual crime.

However, simply investing in security hardware is only half of the story. The rise in the level of sophisticated organized crime means loss prevention officers find themselves taking part in something of an arms race with the criminals, where staying one step ahead presents a major challenge.

The move to IP-based systems is enabling improved surveillance techniques across the board. Network surveillance systems can cover huge areas and are effective tools when it comes to reducing shoplifting and fraud, making store management easier and more efficient. Flexibility for changing location with Power over Ethernet (PoE) which enables a single cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to devices and Auto Back Focus (ABF) a Panasonic feature that provides automatic focus adjustment are huge advantages for when shop layouts change since they enable much faster deployment times. Additionally, transaction records and recorded images can be linked to reduce fraud and problems with customers.

Furthermore, improvements in the resolution of the cameras themselves provides loss prevention and law enforcement officers with a clear view of incidents – match that with facial recognition technology and staff alerts for known shoplifters and you can massively improve security on site.

With any luck the residents of Canna will enjoy another 50 crime-free years before the local store becomes the target of another low level heist. Sadly, the same is unlikely to be said for everyone else. But perhaps with the appropriate level of security in place, retailers can at least reverse the rising trend for shrinkage.