Addressing Unique Challenges
Guest on associate violence has become part of retail security and loss prevention
- By Sean Foley
- Jul 21, 2023
Retailers of all sizes continue to have unique challenges when it comes to security and loss prevention issues. The 2022 NRF Retail Security Survey revealed that retail shrink has become an almost $100 billion problem. Most survey respondents also reported that guest-on-associate violence, external theft, organized retail crime (ORC) and cybercrimes have become higher priorities for their organizations. ORC has become so widespread that almost one third of retailers surveyed have established a dedicated ORC team.
With so many threats coming from both within and outside of an organization, it is hard for retailers to know where to turn when looking to mitigate these growing risks. And while employee training is certainly an important first line of defense, the amount of staff turnover in many establishments makes it difficult to keep employees current and engaged with security best practices.
One answer might be to always have dedicated security guards on premises, yet few retail establishments can justify such a cost. Human guarding is not without its own issues as the profession suffers from an extremely high rate of turnover, and its presence can be seen to affect the customer experience.
To complicate matters further, retail chains increasingly rely on commerce outside the confines of the store such as buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) services. The industry is willing to invest in solutions, but they want demonstrable results proportional to their unique needs and individual budgets.
Unique Solutions for Retail Security
Most retailers have a video surveillance system installed. However, if no one is watching, it can only ever provide evidence of an event that has already occurred. For loss prevention specialists looking to curb losses instead of simply reporting them, a more proactive approach is needed. Ideally, the goal is to stop losses or deter crime before it happens.
Legacy security solutions are not designed for today’s retail service model. As a result, many retailers are working closely with managed service providers as an extension of their own in-house teams. They are looking to employ the most effective technology solutions that will help them secure and scale their operations.
AI-based Cameras with Smart Voice Down Capabilities
The latest AI-based cameras with advanced analytics can extend the reach of loss prevention specialists by accurately alerting staff to certain behaviors such as loitering of people and vehicles. These same cameras paired with a capable VMS can also find perpetrators quickly with some solutions registering a criminal’s face for future notification in the event they return.
Automated and customized voice-down message services can also be scheduled throughout the day through an organization’s existing speaker system to remind customers and would-be bad actors of the security presence. For example, persons who loiter can be met with a tiered and gradually escalating response from a voice-down system if they do not disperse after predetermined intervals.
Point of Sale Integration with Video
To help combat shrink at the register, today’s POS exception reporting solutions can integrate with video surveillance systems. By providing a video stream tied to every staff purchase, void, over/under ring, coupon fraud, a sweetheart deal, or ‘no sale’ transaction, loss prevention professionals can quickly identify anomalies to detect and prevent shrink.
A well-designed solution can identify suspicious transactions among millions of POS transactions. For any business plagued by shrink, POS exceptions tied to video is an absolute necessity.
Interactive Remote Video Monitoring
Employees cannot be expected to supervise customer misbehavior or confront crimes in progress effectively. They are not trained or insured to do so, and such a heavy responsibility is above their pay grade. One of the most effective ways a retail business can protect itself is through an interactive monitoring solution.
With live video and two-way audio capabilities, these systems allow trained security staff to see, hear and communicate with employees 24/7. This solution guarantees personnel safety and ensures the premises stay secure.
It also provides valuable distance between hostile actors and staff. Virtual guard services allow remote operators to connect to live audio and video feeds and scan the location proactively for any potential threat day or night — just as an on-premises security guard might do. If there is a threat, a trained, live professional will immediately respond by assessing the situation and intervening with live audio. Where necessary, law enforcement may be called in.
Video Verified Alarms
Video verified alarms, which integrate a basic alarm system with video, are another effective solution that can make a stark difference for retailers. Because law enforcement needs to prioritize critical, health-related issues they cannot always respond quickly to commercial burglar alarm signals going into a 911 center. The average response time for law enforcement to respond to a commercial burglar alarm is about 26 minutes.
For businesses with a history of false alarms, the response time may be much higher. However, a video-verified alarm system that clearly shows an imminent situation will prompt law enforcement to move more quickly to the location since they may catch someone in the act. It can also save businesses thousands of dollars in false alarm fees.
Remote Retail Audits
Remote auditing is a powerful tool to combat shrink. It can be used to ensure operations are running as they should be and that employees are following proper procedures. In this case, audit specialists leverage video surveillance solutions to review cash handling, employee productivity as well as safety compliance and cleanliness.
A regular remote audit can help reduce shrink and improve employee productivity by pinpointing key problem areas while delivering actionable insights with visual reporting. Employees who know they are going to be evaluated are much less likely to game the system.
Lone Worker Safety
Business models have adapted to keep costs under control as supply chain and economic forces have slowed recovery post pandemic. Using more lone workers for opening, closing, third shifts, curbside deliveries and other customer interactions outside of the premises is part of a new normal for retail. While this has helped many organizations trim costs, it has also exposed lone workers to greater risks.
Most businesses have video security systems in place, but many were not installed with current working conditions in mind. Security cameras now need to have coverage that extends to curbside delivery areas for example. As before, employing a full-time security guard is not sustainable for many businesses. When providing realistic options to lone workers, it is important that any solution be simple and robust enough that employees will see the value and choose to use it. It should require no installation or configuration by the user and not rely on a user’s personal mobile device.
Having an experienced security professional and law enforcement available at the touch of a button can boost morale and give lone workers the confidence to do their jobs without taking on unnecessary risks. Putting in place a lone worker protection strategy should be an essential part of a comprehensive retail business security strategy.
Taking a Bite Out of ORC
The rise in ORC in the United States is attributable to many factors, starting with the reality that no federal law prevents this type of activity, and some states have decriminalized low-level offenses. Lynda Buel, president of security consulting firm SRMC told CNN that “For the low-level criminal, the benefit far outweighs the risk, since the threshold for a misdemeanor offense is $950 -- meaning that a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor."
With law enforcement stretched thin, the chances of being apprehended are low. If apprehended, perpetrators can post low bail or signature bond, and charges are often dropped if the merchandise value is under felony level. Even if prosecuted and convicted, perpetrators rarely receive jail time. With the many online platforms available to sell stolen items, the profitability of this crime is substantial. Large ORC crews in some locales have netted in excess of $1M in illicit profits.
With such an endemic problem, we need to bring multiple tools to the battle. Technology including AI-based cameras, automatic license plate readers (ALPR) and even facial recognition software can help coordinate efforts and lead to successful prosecution of these repeat offenders. Automated voice-down announcements can convey a constant security presence and increased risk to “boosters” to skip that particular business and move on to easier prey.
While retail loss prevention specialists face new and evolving threats, there are technology solutions and best practices that can diminish losses by deterring would-be thieves through a more proactive and automated response to potential threats. Whether it is internal shrink or organized theft, there are multiple new options available to mitigate losses while protecting employees.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2023 issue of Security Today.