UK retailers employ tech to tackle crime

Theft has been an issue for retailers for as long as shops have existed, but recent statistics from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggest it is once again on the rise.

According to the BRC, the direct cost of criminal theft stood at £700 million in the year to March 2019, up 31 per cent from the previous year. In all, the total cost of crime to retailers stood at £1.9 billion, with £900 million from criminal activity and £1 million from efforts to prevent it. The real cost is likely to be higher still, with many retailers failing to report instances in the first place.

Along with physical security measures such as security guards, CCTV remains the main weapon in the fight against criminals. “Having a multi-camera system in place can often deter petty thieves, but also eliminates any blind spots on the premises,” said Tim Raynor, video product manager at ADT. “In addition, a swift and efficient playback system is also essential to promptly review any footage.”

Increasingly this can be done through a mobile device, he added, allowing owners or those tasked with monitoring systems, to view activity remotely.

New technology is helping retailers to get more from CCTV systems though. Artificial intelligence-powered facial recognition technology can identify known shoplifters before they even enter the store, according to Rufus Caldecott, operations analyst at Blackstone Consultancy, and alert security staff to their presence.

“Technological intelligence will be able to store thousands of faces with ease and spot a thief far more efficiently than a security guard who could easily miss them,” he pointed out. “Furthermore, facial data can be shared between every shop belonging to a retailer – a known thief will be digitally marked by every shop of that retail company.”

In the US, some retailers have offered to release those detained in exchange for obtaining facial data for the system, Caldecott added.

Machine learning is also starting to have an impact, by recognising the difference between normal and abnormal behaviour. “Once the learning process is complete for one store, a retailer could roll out the system across all of its sites fairly rapidly,” explained Scott Orton, technical account manager at Cloud Technology Solutions.

“The integration of machine learning and CCTV is still in its infancy here in the UK, with only a handful of companies trialling the technology; but we shouldn’t expect it to be too long until this is a fundamental component of store security systems across the UK.”

It’s also possible to combine video with point of sale (PoS) software analysis to help investigate particular issues, according to Evgenia Ostrovskaya, business development director for retail and banking at Genetec.

“For example, if a store is continuously losing jumpers, with the PoS data and stock not correlating, then an investigator would need to pull up every successful transaction to see if customers are being clever about how many jumpers they are buying, or whether staff are missing that in fact there is more than one item being sold.

“Using tools to analyse these transactions and work out anomalies allows investigators to quickly identify suspicious transactions, immediately review the associated video for more context, and flag transactions for further investigation.”

Cashierless technology and self-scanning have also opened retailers to the risk of higher levels of criminal activity; despite proving popular with customers.

According to a report by the ECR Community Shrinkage and On-shelf Availability Group, stores where 55 to 60 per cent of transactions go through fixed self-checkout terminals can expect their shrinkage losses to be 31 per cent higher, while the development of mobile scanning could see even higher losses.

“There is evidence that mobile scanning is valued by customers in helping manage their spending, and it is also helping to alleviate queuing at the point of payment,” said David Nicholls, chief technology officer for retail and hospitality at Fujitsu UK. “But investment should also be made in putting the controls in place to detect and manage fraud and to create natural interventions within a customer’s journeys to validate their purchases.”

There’s also the issue of internal theft for retailers to battle, with the Centre for Retail Research estimating this makes up over a fifth of all cases of shrinkage. “Examples could include mis-scanning items, fake returns or high value items sold as sale items for friends or family to pick up at bargain prices,” noted Ostrovskaya.

It’s important that retailers are vigilant against the threat coming from members of staff, including training employees to watch out for warning signs from colleagues, said Caldecott.

“Due diligence checks should happen before employing staff too – check submitted CVs by researching their work history with their previous employers and ensure that they haven’t been involved in any workplace crimes previously,” he advised. “Knowing your employees and fostering a positive and collaborative working environment will also lessen the risk and heighten senses should suspicions arise.”

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