Modern CCTV systems can obviously play a key role in your battle with the bad guys. And while investing in
technology alone will not solve the problem, installing a comprehensive system at the same time as adopting a proactive approach to community partnerships should result in a
reduction in crime and make your store a safer place for you, your staff and your customers.
There's still quite a battle on, however, according to the European Retail Theft Barometer, which estimates that shrinkage is costing UK retailers almost £4bn a year.
According to the survey, customer theft accounts for 43.3% of losses, closely followed by staff-assisted theft at 38%. Internal errors, such as staff till mistakes and procedural mistakes, are thought to account for a further 14.3%. Add in recent worrying spates of ram-raiding and distraction burglaries and it's clear that the situation is unlikely to improve overnight.
CCTV can provide a starting point, however, in attempts to improve the figures. While acting as a deterrent to would-be criminals, good quality footage can also be used to bring about convictions by providing clear images for the police to use as evidence.
Marketing director for ADT UK, Helen Wylde, agrees that CCTV has a major role to play in the c-store sector. "CCTV images are now routinely used to support the police and other authorities when investigating incidents and reconstructing events," she says. "Of particular value are the new generation of digital recording systems which are providing even clearer and more accessible images. The clarity of the image is undiminished by repeated playback in relation to matters under investigation and review, unlike tape-based recording equipment."
Wylde highlights the emergence of digital recording features such as smart video search, remote alarm management and CD exporting, as developments which can save
valuable time by doing away with the need to search through hours of video tapes and produce copies.
The installation of cameras as anything more than a deterrent will prove useless unless they cover the correct parts of your store. Wylde adds: "Depending on the store and the merchandise, where retailers should situate cameras will differ. However, when looking at smaller retailers, who generally have less staff, it's important that the shop floor - especially inaccessible areas and toward the rear of the property - the tills and the stock areas are covered. If there are vulnerable areas outside the store then external cameras should also be used.
"With larger stores, the use of domes could be considered, as these will give greater coverage, with the ability - if an operator is used - to zoom in on specific areas when necessary. Coupled with a digital recorder, these will provide cleaner and clearer images for evidential purposes, as particular incidents can be recorded in more detail."
Earlier this year, BT announced the launch of a loss prevention
solution for retailers to help combat the problem of shrinkage. The
technology integrates video surveillance images with point of sale
transaction data so that retailers can easily pinpoint stock loss incidents. A sophisticated system analyses till transaction details to provide
'exception alerts' - reports designed to highlight unusual behaviour.
According to retail sector general manager Gary Sharp from BT Global Services UK: "Retailers are realising that reducing shrinkage is a profit growth strategy and needn't just be accepted as a cost of doing business. We're able to offer real-time management of shrinkage at store level. We're committed to delivering technologies that can help retailers achieve cost savings, protect profit margins and, ultimately, assist in improving business performance."
Shrink management provider Checkpoint Systems has also developed a similar programme. CheckView is an internet-based video management software solution which provides retailers with networked video and retail intelligence. CheckView can record every transaction put through the cash register and overlay them with video footage, making it possible to search the system using transaction data or product names.
While shoplifting is undoubtedly the most common crime caught on camera by c-store retailers, the threat of robbery and violence remains a worry for many.
Ensuring the right procedures are in place to back up CCTV or any other chosen technology is vital if you are to create as safe an environment as possible. A good example of when retailers can become vulnerable to serious attack is during regular cash collection visits by security guards. Adam Miller,
director of risk at cash collection firm G4S, advises retailers to make use of CCTV both inside and outside their stores, but warns that they should also introduce specific best practices to avoid becoming a target for
criminals. He explains: "Having clear CCTV makes a huge difference in any post-attack analysis and can sometimes also act as a deterrent.
"Vigilance and intelligence are key. Technology is good, and a vital part of the solution, but a massive reduction in attacks can be achieved by good communication between us, our customers and the police. I'd encourage retailers to be very aware and keep an eye on anything unusual going on outside when a cash collection is about to take place."
Miller says that c-stores could learn from a recent code of practice introduced between cash collection firms and the banks, whereby security guards are provided with 'safe areas' to make them less visible to a bank's cutomers. While he admits that the logistics of a similar approach in c-stores could be
problematic, Miller suggests that, at minimum, retailers should always deal with cash collection staff away from the shop floor if at all possible. For example, they can be invited to wait, if necessary, in a staff-only area or storage rooms at the rear of the store.
Technology is also playing a major part in improving the safety of cash collection. Miller adds: "We've introduced a number of different
technologies such as tracking systems in cash collection boxes and remote detonation. All this helps to deter attackers. We're also in the process of developing a way to make it easier for small retailers to report incidents to us with an internet-based intelligence system. In the meantime, if retailers perceive an immediate danger they should contact the police. If there's no immediate danger they can inform their courier or contact their local branch."
Partners in crime
Gareth Lewis, head of loss prevention and compliance at Southern Co-op, has headed up a number of partnership schemes between the Co-op, local police and other authorities. While he's quick to point out that technology has a part to play, he believes that the long-term solution lies in forming strong partnerships.
"Technology solutions all have a part to play but they're often just short-term measures in terms of improving the situation," he explains. "CCTV can act as a deterrent but its main purpose should be as an evidential tool for the police and to provide some comfort to staff. Partnerships lead to a more lasting solution."
Lewis recently returned from America where Southern Co-op picked up an international award for one of its latest projects, 'Operation Kensington', where staff are encouraged to write their statements in an evidence pack. The project, developed in partnership with Portsmouth police and Storewatch, ensures the group is well placed to provide evidence following an incident.
He adds: "Retailers should always work with the local police. The merits of getting involved in a traders' association or community partnership mean they can speak with one voice."