By Howard Riell, Associate Editor
Because of the nature of how convenience retailers must conduct business, stores are prime targets for theft. However, with effective employee training combined with better technologies on the market, such as smart safes and advanced video systems, retailers are fighting back.
“Visible cameras are certainly a deterrent to robbery,” said Todd Burgess, vice president and chief technology officer of Lynchburg, Va.-based Witco Inc., which operates about a dozen Quik-E Foods Stores. “We don’t try to hide them, and—knock on wood—I haven’t had (a robbery) in a while.”
The next step for the chain is to put monitors up where customers can see them, to let them know they are being recorded. “I think that’s a big deterrent.” The cost of such recorders can range from $2,500 to $3,800.
“We are also getting ready to start installing IP (Internet Protocol)-based cameras,” said Burgess. “These are mega-pixel cameras, so instead of 700 lines of resolution you get 1.3 mega pixels. The resolution is ridiculous. You can zoom in on a dollar bill over a cash register. That’s where we’re going.”
Burgess said the company will soon operate March Networks’ hybrid recorders and Searchlight Retail Transaction Investigation (RTI) software, which integrates high-quality surveillance video with point-of-sale transaction data and business and security analytics. The software enables operators to minimize loss and shrinkage while increasing revenue by improving marketing, operations and the customer experience.
“Every transaction and every piece of text in those transactions is going to be sent back to corporate and stored in a searchable database,” Burgess said. “Not only is it searchable, it can also send alerts.”
In the case of a void, for example, management will receive an email alert saying, ‘Store seven just had a void for over $25.’ “I touch it and I get to literally watch the video on my telephone and see if it’s legit. Then you can turn right around and call the store and say, ‘Hey, I just watched you give back $25 to John Doe, what’s that about?’ It gives us more tools to catch theft. That’s where it’s going.”
Technological options: Security technologies have advanced, and now provide convenience stores with more security options for CCTV, remote access video, point-of-sale interface and search features, as well as analytics, said Rolland Trayte, for 25 years the director of retail loss prevention for Conoco Phillips, where he oversaw 15,000 locations, including 4,000 company-operated Circle K’s plus more than 10,000 affiliates.
“The days of watching hours of video tape with the hopes of finding the solution to a loss-related issue have been replaced with searchable interfaces and video that can be accessed from a home office,” Trayte said. “Interactive security centers not only monitor alarms for safety/security but also have the ability to monitor performance metrics, customer counts, age-restricted sales compliance and out of stocks.”
High-efficiency lighting provides the best environment for safety and security for early morning and late-night shoppers while bringing energy efficacies unmatched by previous light sources, Trayte has found. This is a tactic many drug store chains and supermarkets have been using for years in their 24-hour stores to promote customer safety.
“One of the biggest challenges clerks face today is what to do about shoplifters, primarily ‘beer robbers,’” Trayte said. “Most companies have policies against confrontation.”
The incentive for cigarette theft exists, also. With carton prices ranging from $60 in Ohio to $120 in New York, a 30-carton case means $1,800 or $3,600, respectively.
“The beer thieves know that they won’t be stopped by store employees,” Burgess said. “Cigarettes have gotten to be so expensive that rather than steal cash in a robbery, suspects will hit stores right after grocery deliveries and grab a 30-carton case of ‘reds and greens’—Marlboro/Winston and Newport/Kools.”
Rosemary Erickson, Ph.D., president of Athena Research Corp., a retail security consulting firm in Coral Gables, Fla., helped develop the National Association of Convenience Stores’ (NACS) anti-robbery training program. She began by asking robbers themselves how and why they held up stores, and what dissuaded them.
The findings are enlightening.
When asked, ‘What would be important to you if you were to rob a convenience store?’ the most frequent responses were escape route, followed by the amount of money there might be. It’s common to find c-stores adorned with signs that read ‘WE DON’T TAKE LARGE BILLS’ and ‘CLERK CANNOT OPEN SAFE,’ Erickson said. “But what people tend to overlook is the No. 1 thing robbers look for, an escape route.”
There are, Erickson continued, several steps retailers can take, beginning with securely fencing the entire property. Also, don’t have holes in the fence that lead back to areas behind the store. Have outside cameras, not just inside cameras, so that you can see what’s going on around the store.”
Limiting the entrance to and egress from the store is also vital.“At night, close off some of the entrances so that you can see who drives in and who drives out. You don’t want people driving in behind your store that you don’t even see and getting out of the car,” Erickson said.
Inside, limit the number of doors kept open at night, suggested Erickson.“Think differently about your day store and your night store. Don’t have two entrances. Of course, the big limitation you can put in at night is installing a bullet-resistant barrier that you pass money and product through in a high-crime neighborhood,” Erickson said. “You go and get them their six-pack of beer or their pack of cigarettes and they pay through that opening.”
Not surprisingly, the time-controlled drop safe is recommended for the control of money.
“Some of the smaller stores don’t want to invest in them, but that’s the main way to keep from getting robbed, to not have the money,” Erickson said. “Cashiers drop the money in and they have to wait two minutes to get change. The robbers do not want to wait two minutes; the average robbery takes 90 seconds. He just wants to get in and out.”
Installing cameras is another wise step to take, she added.
“But here’s the thing you need to know about cameras and videos: they usually don’t keep people from robbing, but they’ll help you catch them after the fact,” Erickson said.
Erickson goes further, advising operators not to keep weapons in the store, which could lead to the possibility of injury. “The training is to not resist and to give up the money.”
Witco provides employees with robbery-prevention training using the NACS program that Erickson helped design.
“Our employees are trained to give the perpetrators whatever they ask for and not to ask questions,” said Burgess. “The more submissive you can be the better your chances of not being hurt.”
Stores are equipped with external and internal cameras, as well as time-lock safes.
“We don’t have them at every store because they are expensive, but we have put those in where (they’re) affordable,” Burgess said. Parking lots are kept well lit, which Burgess called a powerful deterrent in and of itself. Most stores have floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum visibility, lights are left on overnight, and every store is equipped with a burglar alarm.