Keeping a retail business running smoothly can be a daunting task at the best of times, and the past couple of years have been particularly challenging. Having to enforce social-distancing guidelines and mask mandates has put a lot of pressure on local retail operators, and rising crime in the downtown core has only added to their stress.
The Vancouver Police Department reported a 260% increase in violent shoplifting incidents in 2020, and in September of this year, the VPD announced it was redeploying officers in the downtown core in response to an uptick in “commercial crime and disorder in the business district”.
“We stand with the residents, the workers, and the business owners who are frustrated, and we will continue working with them to find innovative ways to prevent crime and improve public safety,” VPD Sergeant Steve Addison said at the time.
The good news is that innovative alternatives already exist, and tech-savvy business owners are already using them to prevent theft and keep their employees and customers safe. However, many of the loss-prevention systems retailers use are ineffective. Often this is because the system is not operating properly to detect the security tags the store is using on its products. Sometimes the system is even switched off and the retailer is not aware of it.
Fortunately, loss-prevention tech is evolving rapidly, and the tools are more sophisticated. At the Retail Council of Canada’s virtual 2021 Retail Loss Prevention Forum, Dan Reese of Bosch Building Technologies noted that we are in the midst of a major transition at the moment, “from a time when cameras were used as a tool to record video for review after the fact to their development as data-producing sensors. The data helps feed the algorithms which then produces even more accurate data and information, ultimately helping loss prevention teams better predict and get out in front of risks and threats.”
Reese further explained that the combination of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things—where all devices are intelligent and connected—are improving detection capabilities and increasing processing power. “Today, systems powered by what people are referring to as AIoT have been developed to learn normal behaviour and raise an alarm when something unusual is detected,” he said. “It’s presenting retailers with the opportunity to truly move from reactive systems to proactive systems to identify and mitigate loss before it happens.”
Many retailers have also begun to tap into the powerful loss-prevention and security features of next-generation digital signage. Customers are becoming increasingly accustomed to being greeted by these digital signs when they enter a shop; they display advertising, but also store messaging and important public-service information such as Amber Alerts and severe weather warnings.
They can also help businesses keep accurate customer counts, and some can even deliver demographic info including age and gender. Their loss-prevention features will work with a store’s existing security tags and labels, and they can send real-time notifications of alarm events to mobile devices as well as capturing video of security events and streaming it to cloud storage for later viewing and analysis.
Not all loss prevention involves technology, of course. One of the most basic measures a retailer can take is to design their space in a way that discourages theft. This can look like:
- Setting up the space so that employees always have a clear line of sight; this can include using shorter displays so workers can see over them and get an instant picture of what’s going on throughout the whole store.
- Displaying small or easy-to-steal items in places that are more difficult to reach.
- Laying the store out so that people have to go past the cashier in order to exit.
- Good lighting, mirrors, and security cameras (even dummy cameras) can all act as deterrents to would-be shoplifters.
Staff should be trained to be watchful and make eye contact with customers—this alone can act as a deterrent, since thieves are less likely to try stealing merchandise when they know they are being watched. To prepare them in the event that theft does occur, employees will need training in how to respond in a way that keeps store staff and customers safe.
Retailers should also make an effort to tap into a wider network, sharing information and collaborating with managers and loss-prevention officers from other stores as well as local law enforcement and community crime-prevention organizations. Take what we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic—that we’re all in it together—and apply it to the problem of a rising wave of theft and violence.
According to the Retail Council of Canada, theft costs Canadian retailers around $5 billion each year—and with crime on the rise, that number could soar even higher unless businesses take action. No matter what measures they employ—high-tech or otherwise—loss prevention is a consideration that businesses can’t afford to ignore.
Kyle Hall is the CEO of INEO.