The retail sector is the heart of America’s consumer-oriented economy. Its vastness and diversity is a matter of pride for us and its fortunes mirror the rise and fall of our country’s. Shopping also happens to be our national pastime. As per one study, we spend 45 minutes a day on average doing some or the other kind of shopping.
From any perspective, the role of retail industry in America cannot be overstated. There are more than 3.6 million retail establishments in this country, providing employment to 42 million people and “contributing $2.5 trillion to our annual GDP.” The industry had brought in sales of $4.7 trillion in 2011 as per US Department of Commerce, and continues to add more jobs to the economy. The National Retail Federation states that the retail industry had by September this year added 289,000 jobs to the economy, which is more than what the entire private sector has added over the past year.
That gives a fair idea of the crucial role the retail sector plays in our economy and in our day-to-day lives. Let’s just say retail is to our economy what oxygen is to us!
In this post we look at the security challenges facing retail businesses, what they are doing about it, and how you – a small retailer – can learn from all of this and improve security at your own store.
Security challenges facing the retail sector
You have put up interesting and endless stuff on display – shiny, irresistible, and up for grabs! Congratulations, you have managed to hook people’s interest and are now getting loads of them coming in throughout the day.
Guess where your biggest challenge lies now?
A lot of material in stores (depending on the type of the store) is simply out of reach for many people. But just because they cannot afford it does not mean they have no desire for it. Most of us would walk away from anything we cannot afford; some, though, would rather push their luck. Then there are those who just don’t want to pay for anything even if they can!
So as a retail shop owner your biggest challenge lies in protecting your wares.
Theft, employee or otherwise
Theft is an unrelenting problem affecting more than 95% of all retail businesses, big or small.
The National Retail Security Survey states that retailers lost a total of $35.28 billion in theft in 2011. Of that over 44% was lost in employee theft and “25.8% to shoplifting and organized retail crime.”
Those are staggering numbers and not all establishments are big enough to be able to absorb losses brought on by unscrupulous employees and visitors.
The upshot of this being that despite the economy showing uncertain signs going forward, and despite layoffs in retail sector caused by a consumer reluctance to spend more, retailers are not cutting back on security spend. If anything, security-related expenses are only increasing and will keep doing so.
What is organized retail crime and how does it affect you?
Shoplifting merely refers to individuals sneaking out a thing or two without having paid for it. Organized retail crime, on the other hand, refers to gangs who treat crime as their profession. They go about it in a very organized and systematic manner. They move from shop to shop and city to city with a plan in mind. They spend time studying their targets, i.e. the retail shops, organize a strategy on what and how to steal, conduct these ‘operations’, and then sell the stolen material to shady dealers for profits. Since it is not a lone operator that carries out such theft, they are often difficult to pin down for individual retail establishment owners. The FBI puts the loss caused by these gangs at $30 billion a year.
To give you an example of how they operate, here’s something in the FBI’s own words: “…a few years ago, members of two criminal organizations in California were charged for their role in a large-scale fencing operation to buy and sell over-the-counter health and beauty products—as well as other items like camera film, batteries, and infant formula—that had been stolen from major retail chain stores. The merchandise was then passed off to crooked out-of-state wholesale distributors, who just sold it back to unsuspecting retailers.”
Whether you own a humble grocery store, an electronic retail store, or a high-end clothing store, no one is immune from this scourge.
As regards employee theft, which is also a significant headache for retailers, refer to this post to learn more on how to tackle it.
How to protect your store from these threats
The threat of theft is omnipresent but around holiday season it multiplies. The footfall witnessed shoots through the roof, and shops go into overdrive keeping on top of all the demand, discounts, sales, and offers. More and more people checking out your store is good news but unfortunately it also means a corresponding rise in the chances of theft taking place.
Fortunately, the retail sector has been among the most enthusiastic users of the video surveillance technology. If you think about it, there isn’t any other kind of security system that offers what a surveillance system does. And even though security cameras were originally meant for completely different purposes, it’s almost as if they were made for the retail sector!
Smaller retailers, however, do not show the same appetite for video surveillance as their bigger counterparts. But there is a lot they can learn from their bigger cousins in this respect.
For family-managed stores, which employ a fewer number of people, it is relatively easier to manage their employees without the help of elaborate security systems. In these set-ups the good old word of honor still matters. These managers also tend to trust their employees, as more often than not they happen to be someone known to them, or recommended by somebody know to them. That may lure them into a false sense of security which may prove costly.
One of the unspoken rules of running a successful business is that you do not trust anybody blindly and that you always have a backup plan in place for the sake of your enterprise. It’s well and good trusting your staff and if you are lucky they would even live up to that trust, but good and smart aren’t necessarily synonymous. And a business owner has to be both if the business is to survive in the long term.
When you are up against hardened criminals, people who devote their lives to study your type of business, meticulously look for loopholes in your security systems, and do their utmost to exploit them, you have to be smarter than these fellows in order to beat them.
An intelligent and effective use of advanced security systems can be the most potent weapon in your arsenal.
Which cameras to put your trust in?
Video surveillance systems are the most trusted security devices for many retailers for a reason – they work. And nothing else works the way they do.
Any business would need to have a full-fledged security system in place to tackle the aforementioned threats effectively. A proper security system includes a few wired, wireless, indoor, and outdoor cameras. (To learn about the types of cameras available in the market and how they function, please refer to our earlier post on the topic.)
How many cameras will you need in all depends on the size of your store, its location, and the overall challenges it faces.
In any case, an 8-camera system is a good bet for an average-sized store. Your security system should ideally contain multiple indoor cameras for use inside the store, one camera to be installed at the entrance, another at the exit, and a vari-focal or pan-tilt-zoom camera, equipped with high resolution night vision capabilities, safeguarding your premises.
We highly recommend the use of hidden cameras at retail establishments, but do let the visitors know they are under surveillance.
The outdoor cameras are ensconced in professional grade housings, from where they keep a consistent eye on all the goings-on in your immediate surroundings. They are weather-proof and vandal-proof, but to be on the safe side install them higher up so they are out of reach of most crooks. These cameras are the best sentries money can buy. They are made of a solid build and serve you well year after year.
All the cameras have a central monitoring system, meaning you can watch the live feed from the comfort of your seat. You can also retrieve the feed anytime you wish.
These cameras put you in complete control of the security of your establishment. You can catch thieves red-handed or create a case against them based on the concrete evidence filmed on the camera.
The CCTV footage will also prove precious with insurance claims in the event of arson or vandalism.
Knowing they are under surveillance itself has a discouraging effect on those who enter your shop with crime on their mind.
You can also keep an eye on employees neglecting their duties and/or engaging in unethical behavior.
Since video surveillance is now widespread, those who do not take it seriously tend to stand out and stand to lose even more.
These systems may be very advanced, impressive, and useful, but they don’t have to cost you a lot.
Most security systems these days come with smartphone assistance, meaning they have dedicated apps that can be downloaded from the respective websites to your phones. These are used to remote monitor your business and how things are progressing in your absence.
For the money you invest in a good system, the returns are mighty impressive, making purchasing a good security system a no-brainer of a deal.
Other advantages of video surveillance
Retail is tough business. There are endless rows and stacks to track. Employees have to constantly be on the lookout for misplaced items, items that need to be restocked, boxes accidentally kicked over by shoppers, all kinds of spills and messes, etc.
Strategically placed cameras can instantly bring the above to your notice. Restocking empty stacks and correcting the placement of certain items can only have a positive effect on the consumer experience at your store.
The feed can also give you a lot of ideas about the placement itself, whether it is user-friendly enough, if people tend to get lost while looking for a certain item, etc.
The feed can be used as intelligence to learn more about different stores in your chain. If used smartly its benefits will range from keeping your business secure, to aiding your human resources department, and helping sales and marketing come up with better targeting campaigns.
In this post we looked at the unique challenges facing the retail industry and the pivotal role security cameras play in guarding individual businesses. This reliance on security cameras is only going to increase with time. As technology gets more sophisticated, so do criminals (if they don’t want to get caught, and nobody wants to get caught!). And to counter that, technology in turn gets even sharper. It’s a cat and mouse game going on between those who want to eat their cake without paying for it and those who want to nab them for it. As a shop owner with the responsibility of your business resting squarely on your shoulders, you are indeed lucky to have access to the best security-providing technology man has invented, which is also available at highly affordable prices. We recommend you make the most of it for your own profit and peace of mind!