Advanced surveillance and security products today offer convenience stores more high-tech options.
By Pat Pape, Contributing Editor
U.S. retailers suffered an average shrink rate of 1.38% in 2015, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said this past June. Despite the fact that this is the lowest recorded rate in the past 24 years, that figure represents a whopping $45 billion loss.
Shoplifting and external theft were the No. 1 cause at 38%, with employee and internal theft following closely behind at 34.5%.
Smart cameras, enhanced software and superior monitoring features make new security systems more valuable and cost-effective than ever before.
SECURITY SYSTEM CREDENTIALS
At Maverik, a Salt Lake City-based convenience chain that operates about 280 c-stores in 10 states, each outlet has a minimum of 17 interior cameras and 2-5 installed outside. “They’re focused on certain areas depending on where our losses and liabilities are,” said Nancy Couch, loss prevention safety director for Maverik. “That’s what I need for the size of store we have. In some stores, I might have more cameras if there’s an issue.”
A quality surveillance system is a significant investment, but it can quickly pay for itself.
“The first reason you want video is for the safety and security of people in the store,” Couch said. “If you’re looking for an ROI (return on investment), the biggest payoff is going to come from your workers comp and liability claims. If you have someone who says they tripped and broke their ankle, you can look at your video. People will claim stuff, but the video shows what really happened.”
Today’s surveillance systems are available with built-in intelligence, including people-counting abilities, queue management and analytical tools. There are infra-red cameras and ones that defuse a too-bright sunlight. There is software that allows you to check a store from your smartphone or will send you emails.
“There are 360-degree cameras and 180-degree cameras,” said Jere Matthews, vice president of operations for Rutter’s Farm Stores, based in York, Pa. “There is technology where the camera and software can do people counting and facial recognition. Marketing can determine how many are coming in the door and walking down a particular aisle.”
Want to know what items customers buy with a 30-pack of Budweiser? Input the beer’s UPC and recorded video will show just that. “It’s not just a security camera system anymore,” Couch said. “It’s good for marketing and business analysis. When you buy cameras you want to look at the whole picture and consider how you’ll use them.”
OPTIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Rutter’s, which has nearly 70 locations, is currently installing additional cameras and digital video recorders throughout the chain. “We’ve switched to a Windows-based DVR,” said Matthews. “Windows makes the DVR a little more user-friendly and intuitive.”
The chain’s advanced security system allows management to view live store activities from their office computers. It also interfaces with the company’s point of sale (POS), permitting fast, accurate searches of a single purchase or a series of related transactions.
“If we’re tracking all the ‘no sales,’ refunds or safe drops, and if we want to look at a particular shift or particular employee, we can do that,” he said. “We can do a search on anything that is being rung into the POS. If supervisors need to review a particular transaction or incident, they can do so from their computer.”
Rutter’s security system also can be configured to send emails to supervisors when predetermined events occur.
“For example, if a store supervisor wants to know every time the refund button is pushed on a POS at a particular store, the system will email that supervisor when that occurs,” Matthews said.
Today, 80% of security cameras on the market are capable of recording audio, although several states have an “eavesdropping law” that prohibits the “secret” recording of oral conversations, a law that applies to retail environments.
When audio is recorded in a c-store, “audio [equipment] is placed over the cash register, with cameras in the front and back of the store,” said Richard Brent, a member of the board of directors of the Security Industry Association.“The manager can use audio to monitor store activities [from the back office]. If there is an incident, the manager wants to be able to catch it.”
An experienced workers compensation attorney once told Brent that retailers would have lower litigation costs if they had audio monitoring in their stores. “It’s one thing to watch the situation and another to hear what is said,” Brent said.
Brent also believes a security system can be used to check up on the effectiveness of employee training.
“If you train employees to place one piece of cheese on a sandwich instead of two, but they don’t follow those directions, they can be giving away two cents of profit and over time that can make a difference,” he said.
ADVICE FROM THE PROS
While it’s possible to purchase a camera surveillance system from a big box store and install it yourself, most security experts advise against taking that shortcut.
“The DIY market is certainly there, but that would be like me changing out the water heater at my house,” Brent said. “It’s not that hard, but if I have a pinhole leak in the plumbing, I have no one to yell at but me.”
He recommended that security systems be installed by knowledgeable technicians.
“You don’t want to find out that your camera burned out when it got too hot because you put it near the AC vent,” Brent said. “I would rather seek professional help to install a system and let the professionals be held accountable for its operating performance.”
Plus, professionals know the laws regulating security systems, such as the federal requirement to post a notice of audio monitoring on the store’s door in order to remove any expectation of privacy. Few retailers balk at this mandate. Most want shoppers to know they’re being taped.
“I don’t hide my cameras,” said Couch. “We have high ceilings, and I drop the cameras down on a pole right in the middle of the store where everyone can see them. I want the public to know we have video.”
Another thing to consider when shopping for a new surveillance system is how easy it will be to operate and service.
“Do you need a technician who runs it or is it pretty intuitive?” Couch said. “You don’t want to call somebody every time something goes wrong. If an in-house person can take care of details, that’s important.”