Exclusive: Technology is critical to retail security

August 12, 2022

The retail sector is facing an unprecedented threat from crime both in store and towards staff, reports Philip Ingram MBE.

Retail crime is growing and the challenges of dealing with it in a timely and cost-effective way are growing too. The latest British Retail Consortium Annual Crime Survey for 2022 highlights the scale of the problem when it says, “retail workers were subject to a huge rise in violence and abuse. Incidents almost tripled from around 450 to 1,300 every single day”.

The results of this year’s survey were influenced by the huge number of closures of retail premises during the COVID-19 lockdown as statistics were gathered at its peak. They continued by saying, “(retail crime) cost the industry £1.5 billion in 2020/21 – £785 million in losses from crime and £715 million spent on prevention.”

D G Security Consultancy owner, Daniel Gillis said: “Retailers are not only battling to remain competitive in the worst cost of living crisis for decades, but they also have another fight on their hands, that of the cost of shoplifting and crime.

“Security is costly to implement and the cost to saving ratio is poor due to the ever-evolving methods being used by criminal gangs to get one over on the shop keeper.”

When asked to nominate the three most significant threats to their businesses over the next two years 100% retailers nominated violence against their staff in the top three issues, up from 90% the previous year. Customer theft came in second with over 60% believing it is a top three issue, down from 80%, with just under 60% then citing fraud, up from 40%. Cyber and burglary polled just one third each, down from 40%.

Published guidance

The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance on Preventing Violence on Retail Staff.

The HSE’s guidance suggests that retailers, “may need to revise or change some of your procedures”.

These might include:

–           Timings of opening/closing/deliveries; do they allow for certain incidents to be planned?

–           Cash vulnerability, how much is held, how often is it removed to a safe area, what is the method for transferring it to a safe area?

–           Effective visible cash management procedures in place always

–           Queue management, is it clear and well organised, or does it create uncertainty, delay?

–           Complaints policy, do you have a fair procedure that allows customers to discuss their concerns/problems, do you provide adequate information, are staff trained/helped to deal with complaints?

–           Banking and delivery methods, avoiding easily recognisable routes/patterns which could be identified by a criminal?”

However, Daniel Gillis goes on to say: “A single incident of theft where the offender has stolen less than £200 no longer needs court attendance but can pleaded by letter. This is hardly a deterrent to anyone willing to commit retail crime. The use of security guard’s and overt observational CCTV as a form of deterrence is no longer viable as thieves and criminal gangs use more and more elaborate methods of concealment and removal.”

He adds: “Retailers are fighting back against the tide of shoplifting, shrinkage and fraud with a plethora of technologies from technology algorithms that detect suspicious activity within customer groups, known or previous offender detection to End Point of Sale (EPOS) monitoring to detect items that have been under charged or not charged for. 


“These advancements, combined with ANPR technology in most retail car parks, enhanced communication technology with push notifications and smart alerts to mobile devices are delivering the information swiftly to the on the ground security teams.

“Tech along with banning orders and the like are I think, slowly tipping the scales in the retailers’ favour.”

A McKinsey Global Survey of executives was titled, starkly, “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point and transformed business forever”.

The report declared: “The notion of a tipping point for technology adoption or digital disruption isn’t new, but the survey data suggest that the COVID-19 crisis is a tipping point of historic proportions and that more changes will be required as the economic and human situation evolves.

Importance of learning

“The results also show that some significant lessons can be drawn from the steps organisations have already taken. One is the importance of learning, both tactically, in the process of making specific changes to businesses (which technologies to execute and how) and organisationally (how to manage change at a pace that far exceeds that of prior experiences).”

Some of the technologies that have taken the retail world by storm and help retailers improve security with a digital-first approach include, the now common use of contactless payment methods, which were critical to reduce virus transmission risks during the pandemic. 

However, Point of Sale (POS) scanners help deter theft and can increase efficiencies, speed up the time of checkout and address current shopper preferences, all while reducing the risk of theft. 

However, it is important to remember that self-checkout till should have an attendant to help if necessary but psychologically is less likely to occur when a cashier is in-site.

A survey by the leader in integrated retail technology solutions, Truno, pointed out: “When self-check outs are staffed by an attendant, customer theft can drop by as much as 90%.”  

Truno does then recommend: “POS system should include built-in security scales and scanner cameras. The scale recognizes when an unscanned or improperly scanned item is placed in the bagging area (or vice versa). The security camera visually recognises a product from an image database to confirm an item really is what the shopper inputs. These two technologies combined will help ensure that all items are correctly scanned and bagged, reducing the likelihood of theft.” 

It can also incentivise loyalty and reduce the potential friction often leading to violence.

The survey adds: “By alleviating congestion at the front of the store, retailers are likely to see less shrink from frustrated shoppers and create a superior experience to drive brand loyalty.”

Technology aside, one positive from the pandemic aimed at looking after the biggest retail threat, that of staff safety, the government introduced an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which creates a statutory aggravating factor that will apply where an assault is committed against those providing a public service, including retail workers. Someone is listening.

This article was originally published in the August 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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