Securing High-End Retail Stores

Securing High-End Retail Stores

Luxury retailers are enjoying a business boom; inventories attract criminals

It’s no secret Americans like to shop online. A marketing survey showed 40 percent of U.S. internet users made purchases several times a month in 2017. The number of people shopping online and the amount they spend increases annually. That may not sound like good news for traditional brickand- mortar retailers, but lately many retailers are using technology and service innovations to post some of their best sales numbers in years—even opening new physical stores.

One industry segment, luxury retailers such as jewelry and fine art retailers, are enjoying boom times. These are goods most consumers want to see and hold before deciding to buy. However, the same attraction to valuable inventories also extends to criminals.

As they look to secure their merchandise and employees, high-end retailers are turning to layers of electronic security equipment, along with common-sense policies and procedures, proven at all levels of the retail industry.

Where to Begin

Luxury retailers, in particular, have challenges not found in other commercial industries. That’s why it’s important to work with a security integrator that has retail experience before beginning any new or redesigned security project. Initial planning starts with a risk assessment. The shop’s location may be important. What types of patrons are attracted to nearby retailers? Are stairs or elevators a consideration? Do adjacent roads and highways provide quick escape routes? Can first responders rapidly reach the store?

It’s also critical to look beyond doors and windows as an entrance. Walls, floors and ceilings may require fortification.

Any security plan has to prepare a store for organized gangs. Retail thieves—robbers, burglars and shoplifters—often work in tightlyknit gangs that plan well in advance before they strike.

Exterior Security

Protecting an exclusive retail shop starts outside. Parking lots and garages can be dangerous, especially for customers carrying valuable merchandise to their vehicles. A blue-light emergency tower with an embedded video intercom enables distressed customers to contact shop security for immediate assistance. The units’ cameras also provide security with views to help determine the best response. Bollards installed in front of doors prevent vehicles being used to smash into shops located at street level.

Video surveillance cameras should be mounted outside the public entrance. Placing one at eye level helps provide facial images which are important for forensic investigations. IP-based cameras enable the video feed to be transmitted and viewed over a network and shared with first responders. Recorders should have the capacity to store at least 30 days’ worth of video.

Some high-end shops, such as those selling loose diamonds, fine art or rare coins, may choose to limit the number of customers in the store at any time. These stores keep the main entry locked and allow customers entry by appointment. A video intercom is perfect in this situation. Customers push a button to alert shop employees and after seeing and having a two-way conversation with the visitor, staff can decide to remotely unlock the door. Many other high-end retailers also use video intercoms to check the identity of delivery personnel and vendors before allowing them entry.

Network-based video intercoms integrate with many open-standard platforms, including video surveillance and access control, to provide greater overall system control and more efficient security operation centers. Some intercoms have built-in embedded proximity access card readers, making it easy for employees to use key cards to enter the store.

Solid-core doors provide greater security than those with glass. Metallic shutters that slide down in front of all entries provide added protection at night.

Interior Security

Video cameras inside the store should provide views of all entries, display cases, cash register, the office and stockroom. Avoid blind spots where a criminal may loiter waiting for the best time to strike. Cameras have been proven to act as a criminal deterrent. By installing a monitor at the entry customers immediately know they are under surveillance. Signage announcing the camera system helps. Also, have a concealed back-up recorder to maintain visual evidence if robbers demand to take a recorder with them.

Criminals are sensitive to time. That is why it’s important to slow them with well-designed store fixtures. Display cases should be made of reinforced glass on all sides to reduce attempts at smash-and-grab thefts. Don’t concentrate the highest value items in one case or on a single rack but spread them out to reduce potential losses.

Keep cases locked except when removing one item at a time for inspection. Many display cases are sold with a generic, modelspecific key. In that case, install new locks as generic keys can end up in the hands of criminals. Discretely place panic buttons on the back side of display cases or the end of racks, near the cash register and in the store office. When pushed, they can immediately alert first responders. Consider keeping lowvalue decoy merchandise in the store to give to robbers.

Separate the show floor and office with a two-way mirror. Potential robbers may be slowed or abandon their plans if they wonder who’s watching from the other side. Mirrors installed at ceiling level provide employees with a view of customers across the show floor.

Many stores locate their checkout stands or registers near the back of the store to be conveniently close to the office and stockroom, but a checkout placed near the exit enables employees to keep an eye on customers leaving the store. Never leave a cash register unattended and frequently move cash to an office safe. At closing time, put the most valuable inventory into a heavy safe, permanently attached to the office floor. A safe with a time lock provides added security.

The office should have a solid-core door that’s locked throughout the day—even if an employee is working inside. Another video intercom provides anyone in the office an opportunity to see who is requesting entry. High-end retailers also require intelligible voice communication. An audio intercom lets employees clearly communicate between the office, show floor, cash register and stockroom.

Other Systems

Electrical article surveillance (EAS) systems enable high-end retailers to tag goods using RFID, magnetic, acousto-magnetic or microwave technology. Unless removed or deactivated at the checkout, tags will set off alarms as items pass through an exit pedestal. These pedestals can be embedded into door frames for aesthetic purposes. Many different tag sizes and designs are available to accommodate goods of various shapes, sizes and composition.

Count on an intrusion system to protect the store throughout the night. Install sensors on doors, windows and air vents. Motion detectors can catch movement anywhere in the store. Heat sensors are helpful in detecting a person. Other sensors, such as fire, smoke, flood and freeze detectors, protect inventory and store equipment.

A professionally monitored system will provide a higher level of security. Using the camera system, monitoring station technicians can verify alarms and eliminate—or at least reduce—potentially costly false alarms. Although expensive, consider hiring a uniformed security guard. In larger stores, plain-clothes guards can be helpful.

A computerized point of sale system tracks inventory, clearly showing what merchandise was purchased by customers. Missing inventory, or shrink, is likely due to shoplifters or employees.

Employees

According to a 2017 National Retail Federation survey, employees account for about 30 percent of retail theft. Some of the biggest reported crimes have been inside jobs. A vault manager at a New York jewelry stole $12 million in gold over six years—more than 500 pounds—one piece at a time by hiding it in the lining of her purse.

If it is legal in your city and state, conduct background checks on all employment applicants. A credit check may indicate financial pressures increasing the likelihood of an employee committing or assisting in criminal activity. Run checks on employees annually to ensure nothing in their situations have changed. Also, if legal, require employees to undergo drug screening.

Also remember employees can play an effective role in your security plan. Have a professional trainer show them how to quickly spot criminal behavior in customers. Also train them how to react to prevent harm to customers and themselves during a robbery.

Attracting shoppers to their stores and converting those visits into sales is a prime goal of all luxury retailers, but they also have an obligation to keep their customers and employees safe while securing their highend inventory. Varied layers of security and other related equipment can help them meet those responsibilities.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Security Today.

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