‘Tis the Season for Post-Holiday Theft in Canada

Photo via Axis Communications inc.

Photo via Axis Communications inc.

By: Rick Snook, Business Development Manager, Retail & Banking Axis Communications, Inc.

Holiday shopping season is the busiest time of the year for retailers, and an ideal time to invest in modern security systems to ensure you are levelled up with the latest technological advances.

With more customers, comes more opportunities for theft as sales associates are distracted by more people on the shop floor. At the same time, an influx of customers can also be a form of security, allowing for more eyes on the ground and less attempts to shoplift.  Either way, the best way to monitor increased numbers of shoppers is to have an appropriately designed security system that is primed to prevent theft before it happens, rather than just record it for evidentiary purposes later.

While virtually every retail operation has a video system, it’s possible to go beyond passive reactive mode to make security and surveillance more intelligent and relevant to your everyday business. Modernizing the surveillance system with smart cameras not only protects the business against losses, but the data gleaned from new analytical tools can yield actionable insights to improve the in-store experience, smooth operational processes, and grow sales volume. This data offers insight into how your business works through, automating queue line management, monitoring shelf stocking, and analyzing traffic patterns within the store. Notifications can be sent automatically to managers and staff, alerting them to rapidly emptying shelves with high margin items, and facial recognition software can identify notorious serial shoplifters, and, in combination with transaction records, expose fraudulent returns.

Photo via Axis Communications inc.

Photo via Axis Communications inc.

Identifying return fraud

One of the most active times for criminal activity is after the holiday shopping period is over, when people pour into shops with merchandise for returns or refunds. This is when the rubber hits the road, in terms of the synchronicity between the security system and the transaction history. If working perfectly, the returns desk can be a locus for crime detection by linking people of interest via facial recognition with transaction history of items that were stolen. For instance, if someone approaches the return desk and is identified as working in a crime ring, more attention will be paid to the transaction about to take place. If they do not have the appropriate receipts, or try to insist on a refund without one, it could be a flag for the return.

The ‘invisible’ store clerk

Audio is a tool that retailers can use to welcome shoppers into areas of the store, particularly those that are prone to theft. A smart camera can detect someone entering an aisle and queue an audio greeting like: “Welcome to Cosmetics. We have a special discount on all lipstick products this week.” This does the dual job of greeting a shopper and telling them about any special offers, while also letting them know they have been noticed in case they were planning to shoplift. Audio can also be deployed in the check-out area to calm frayed nerves by telling shoppers their patience is appreciated and that a new check-out counter will be opening, or other store announcements that might pertain to the enhancing the customer experience.  

Machine learning and AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) will vastly change and improve the shopping experience as well, learning to tell the difference between what a normal shopping routine and an odd routine might look like. Smart cameras could learn to discern between normal behaviour, i.e. someone browsing shelves, and another who is potentially preparing to steal an item.  For instance, if a shopper is picking up several of one item, loitering for too long, or returning to the same spot repeatedly, it could trigger an alarm so that security personnel can further investigate.   

Preventing long queues

Line-ups at check-out counters are a pet peeve of customers, and a retailer’s worst nightmare. Smart cameras can count people in a given space and once over a certain threshold can trigger an alert. As Stephen O’Keefe, retail expert in loss prevention, notes: “Dwell times at the last point of contact is critical. If your culture is ‘Three in a line is not fine’, just imagine a device that monitors the line and at three customers sends a text to a backup cashier to proceed to the front and take over an unused register. That customer who might potentially be number four or five, and ready to complain, is now number one.”

Understanding sales is another side benefit of a well-designed security system. “The capability of CCTV to count people isn’t always used to its fullest potential. If the software can tell you how many people were in your store on a given day, and you compare that number to the transaction count from the POS system, suddenly you have a difference between shoppers and paying customers. Using conversion rate information to schedule staff when they are needed by the customer will greatly improve sales and works to reduce shrink.”

Inventory control

Another feature of smart surveillance is the ability to let staff know when items are running low on shelves and it’s time to restock. Not only does this help boost sales, but if a given luxury item is suddenly cleaned out a restock alert could become a theft alert, triggering an alarm and a security presence.

With all the advances in security technologies, there’s no better time to take stock of existing systems. Analog cameras can be affordably upgraded and converted using a digital encoder.  Analytics can bring a plethora of options into the mix, changing the game when it comes to retail security, delivering insights into in-store sales, and improving the customer experience, giving bricks and mortar stores a position of advantage.