Whilst we are entering what is commonly known as the ‘season of goodwill’, those of us that are involved in the security industry are acutely aware that it is also the ‘season of help yourself.’ There is no doubt that the additional footfall and volumes created by Christmas shopping and the recruitment of a large number of temporary staff creates a greater risk of theft both by members of the public and employees. Our teams are, as always, on high alert.
According to the BRC, the cost of crime to the UK retail industry was £613 million in 2014-15, up 2% on last year. This may not seem like a massive increase but there is a steady upward trend, despite the increasing use of technologies such as CCTV. Some of this has been explained by an increase in highly sophisticated criminal gangs that are targeting high street retailers. These groups are extremely skilled at distracting staff and often move from area to area to avoid detection.
However increasingly the problem is with employee theft that, according to the latest BRC survey, costs the retailer, on average, more than 3 times as much as customer theft.
In store the most common places for these thefts to take place are at the checkout. Due to the nature of their work, the cashier has tremendous control over what happens at a manned checkout and this is why knowledgeable retailers are focusing their resources here. For some of our retail customers we are using advanced video analytics at the checkouts to highlight unusual behaviour such as covering bar codes and not scanning products.
In the warehouse the problem can be more complex with employees finding ever smarter ways of concealing items when leaving the building. This is a constant problem particularly with the increase in the use of seasonal staff employed to pick and pack during peak periods. Many seasonal staff tend to work across several warehouses in a region and are able to identify the least secure. Those with criminal intentions will exchange information and tactics and sometimes work in collaboration to successfully smuggle goods out of the warehouse.
The challenge for companies is that inevitably all their staff tend to become very familiar with the buildings they are working in and the security measures that are in place. They have first hand knowledge of how the manned patrols operate, where the technology such as CCTV is located, and where the valuable stock is located. All this makes it relatively easy for a potential thief.
With a high number of staff employed in many warehouses it is impossible to search everyone. Instead our guards use their knowledge to spot tell-tale signs of theft, such as packaging having been interfered with, in order to focus in on certain problem areas and/or staff groups. This can then lead to targeting of individuals for pat-down or more thorough searches, typically at breaks or at the end of shifts.
Searches can be a sensitive issue, and cultural differences can also make searching problematic. While all employees are normally informed during their induction that they will be potentially required to remove clothes or head dresses for a search if required, well trained security guards are still invaluable in dealing with what can be sensitive situations.
In conclusion dealing with retail theft at Christmas is a fine balancing act for the security teams as our retail clients are understandably keen to ensure that the working and shopping environments are happy ones, and that the vast majority of honest workers and shoppers do not feel that they are under suspicion.