Safe and secure
With an upsurge in theft in retail premises, on top of reduced consumers spending during the recession, it's never been more important to invest in security
11 February 2009
The Gardaí believes the economic downturn is likely to impact on crime in 2009.
In December, stolen jeeps were crashed into a number of convenience stores in County Carlow, in order to steal in-store ATM cash.
In the 12 months to the end of September 2008 burglaries were up 10% to 25,198 cases while thefts were up 4% to 77,040.
This further highlights the need for the best possible security equipment, including CCTV cameras, alarms and ram-barriers.
Retail theft impacts on everyone with the consumer ultimately hurt in the form of higher prices, and research has found that there has been an increase in the average cost per incident.
So what’s the risk for your business? It is important to first assess the safety and security of staff and customers in the workplace. Employees need to feel safe in their place of work; their security covers personal property, vehicles and equipment, as well as company property.
Thieves cannot be easily identified by appearance but there are generally two types of thieves, professionals and amateurs. Professionals will strike daily to make a living at times when staff numbers are low (such as during a shift change or at the end of a day).
Amateurs steal at random when the opportunity arises, mainly when the store is busiest, in order to avoid being noticed by staff.
Keeping a watchful eye
So with these rising threats what should retailers be doing to ensure they protect their business and staff, and what are the basics of getting security right? Shane McMahon of Stopwatch Ireland said outlets should make sure to have good solid shutters and a quality alarm system.
In addition, retailers must have a fixed camera constantly monitoring point of sale activity (to deter till fraud). This will also help to combat sweethearting (giving freebies to friends or accomplices) which is becoming more prominent in the retail industry.
McMahon also said it is important that there is a fixed camera positioned on the door and a lot of retail outlets are now going for camera technology with facial recognition which will take a snap shot of the face on entry.
"We at Stopwatch can offer a low cost monitoring package where we can tap into the existing camera system and monitor the till cams; we can even do this on an hourly basis which will minimise costs for retailers in hard times.
"Typically, the store owner will notice money going missing and have suspicions about a certain person or persons. Then we can watch these individuals during part of their shift," said McMahon. Best news of all is that the cost of CCTV monitoring has come down, he says.
Security and cost reduction
Dominick McGroddy of Advanced Pneumatic Technology (APT) comments that, in a tightening economy, retailers have to reduce their costs in every way possible. Therefore any unnecessary activities and costs must be avoided.
"Carrying cash around a retail premises exposes staff to the risk of assault and robbery in the store, that is why gardaí recommend installing a secure system for transporting cash around within a retail premises," says McGroddy.
"The Safe-link cash tube system offers this security. You put the cash from the till into a plastic pod, send it down the tube and it arrives into the safe within seconds. Your staff don’t have to leave the counter, and the cash is in the safe. Only the key holder can access the cash," he says.
One of the tech improvements APT champions is the ability for money to be transported in different ways. "Usually a cash vacuum system only travels one direction, into the safe. We have developed a new product where cash can be securely transported into the safe from the till point, and we can send cash back to multiple till points from the cash office. This offers the retailer the flexibility and security of being able to move cash around a large multi-point premises safely and securely."
While many security systems are often aimed at the outside threat, inside the store staff pilfering and sweethearting continue to be one of the biggest problems faced by retailers.
One of the proven ways to reduce cash skimming, according to McGroddy, is to keep a minimum quantity of cash in the till at any time.
"The Safe-link cash tube system has been proven as a deterrent to "skimming" or internal pilfering. If the staff member is instructed to send cash regularly to the safe, and maintain a minimum float, their temptation to skim is significantly reduced as there is only minimum cash in the till."
Conduct a thorough risk assessment
Des Corbett of PCPro said it was important that retailers asses the risk they are facing by talking to the local Garda and crime prevention officer, other traders in their area and local business associations.
In addition, retailers should reduce the areas of threat such as minimising cash in the tills using auto vacuum safes, and securing vulnerable stock items such as tobacco and alcohol.
Corbett also says installing good quality CCTV systems, where clear facial identification of customers can be recorded and shown on public display monitors, makes an effective deterrent.
Equally, a store should put up large signs stating clearly its policy on CCTV and recordings, and have very clear procedures in place for staff to follow in which all staff are trained and fully conversant.
According to Corbett the key areas of development in security technology throughout the past 12 months have been the gradual move from traditional analogue systems to IP based ones.
"In the area of CCTV, modern cameras are now based on IP technology rather than 50 plus year old analogue technology. There are no new developments in analogue CCTV cameras nor can there be, they reached their maximum resolution some years ago and the images cannot be improved on, we are all used to seeing CCTV footage where the quality of image is of little or no use.
"What this means in practice for the retailer is that where we now use megapixel IP digital cameras, high definition (HD) images can be achieved and the picture detail is at least four times higher than traditional analogue cameras. IP technology is used more and more to integrate CCTV, alarms, access control, and allow the remote monitoring of the business premises by the owner/managers and remote monitoring personnel."
Looking at the internal threat from staff members, Corbett said that employee theft is on the increase and is an area that owner/managers can take immediate action on which ultimately will have a direct positive effect on the profitability of your store.
He said there were a number of reasons why staff steal, and a number of ways in which they do it: misuse of discount cards; adding points to store loyalty cards; theft of goods; or taking cash from the till.
According to Corbett the best method of deterring staff theft is:
- Very clear and specific procedures on what staff are permitted to do in terms of staff sales/discounts and so on
- Professionally installed CCTV with particular emphasis on warehouse, stores and goods receiving areas
- Till scan on all tills with the ability to data search the till receipt data in data base form on your DVR
- Proper staff induction training ensuring a clear understanding of all procedures relating to cash handling, till refunds, credit notes, staff sales and so on
- Employ the services of a professional company if staff pilfering is suspected
- Draft proper professional staff contracts for all staff clearly outlining all company procedures and the consequences of transgressions
Putting security to the fore
Moving outside, automatic number plate recognition is becoming more common in larger outlets that have car parking issues, both from a revenue gathering and marketing information perspective.
David MacHale of Forecourt Systems says the days of relying on tapes from security cameras are over and most retailers should be moving to digital. He says that the quality of recording from analogue cameras was often so bad that the premises might just as well put up "shell" machines with no recording abilities.
According to MacHale, even a good basic digital setup with five cameras would only cost around €1,000. He also points out that storage space is another thing to consider.
For instance, despite having the best equipment, if a retailer didn’t have adequate server storage space for the pictures they might have to record over existing data after three days. "Look at servers with terabytes of storage, the price on terabyte capacity machines is coming down very quickly."
On the issue of staff pilfering, MacHale says it is as big a subject for forecourt retailers and very difficult to combat even if the premises has high tech till camera systems.
"Without them being integrated properly it’s difficult for you to know when amounts of money go missing and you suspect an employee. Looking through footage is very labour intensive.
That’s why an integrated till such as the ‘Big Brother till’ allows you to look at patterns and you can search on the system by looking at a product and it will show you the 10 seconds before and after that product was sold. It will also isolate credit cards transactions or voids."
MacHale believes 2009 will be a tough year for retailers and they should consider upgrading their security systems, even if they have a difficulty seeing the return on investment (ROI).
"Retailers need to bear in mind a lot of solutions out there do have real payback. Proprietors need to look at what internal fraud and robberies are costing them each week then evaluate what are the security costs, and I think they’d be quite surprised with the ROI which is usually within one to two years of upgrading."
Be aware of danger
Garret Wall of Scott & O’Shea says that retailers need to be aware of the threats posed to them, especially with the current crime wave. "Retailers have to be careful not to skimp on security, so technology such as security cameras must be as up to date as possible," he says.
According to Wall, retailers need to make sure CCTV cameras are in the right place, especially at the front entrance.
"That’s your ID level shot, you need a good camera there, concentrating on a head and shoulders capture. Other areas would be on small goods of high value such as cosmetics and razor blades, off-licence sales and so on. Back of store is also easy to steal from, so you need a good camera presence there as well."
When it came to robberies, says Wall, the biggest issue is the guy coming in with a screwdriver and threatening staff. "It’s not the money that counts in that situation, it’s the trauma caused to the staff."
He explains that one of the most popular froms of security is remote monitoring wherein the premises are watched live on a PC from, usually, another location. Attempted break-ins can even be stopped remotely with the system being able to address the criminal and inform them they are being monitored and gardaí have been informed.
"A lot of stores would also have panic buttons. If the button is pushed the monitoring centre is alerted and can come over the intercom system and tell them they are being monitored remotely. It tends to have the desired effect. Stopping the robbery and reducing trauma to staff and customers."
Wall’s advice to retailers considering investing in modern CCTV equipment is to trial it first and to hook up with a trustworthy supplier.
"When buying CCTV equipment go to a reputable company, get a demo and ask the supplier to give you some references of premises who are using the equipment on a daily basis."