Successful Interaction between Man and Technology – Store Detectives in Retail


© axis communications

Every year more than six million shoplifters are being caught worldwide, but this is only the tip of the iceberg, as discovered by the British Centre for Retail Research in a new analysis on the development of retail theft rates and loss prevention since 2001. The unreported number of cases is much higher.

More than78 percent of inventory differences are attributed to shoplifters and crooked employees. Every business day, thieves steal merchandise valued at six million Euros on average. Valuable merchandise from the areas of consumer electronics, perfumes and sportswear disappear most frequently. In supermarkets, even perishable products such as fresh meats are on shoplifters‘ shopping lists.

Retailers invest in security and prevention

Against this backdrop, retail in particular has recently invested heavily in countermeasures. By now, 75 percent of particularly vulnerable products are protected against theft. Various technologies are being used for electronic article surveillance (EAS). Over 80 percent of retailers also see the issue of theft as one of the main reasons for the future use of RFID technology.

The German Trade Association (Handelsverband Deutschland, HDE) also has its eye on the current situation: “By far the biggest problem is shoplifting in its various forms such as opportunity theft, drug-related crimes, made-to-order theft and gang robberies. This is why retail yearly invests approximately 1.2 billion Euros to limit shoplifting. Especially the use of store detectives, camera installations, merchandise security systems, staff training and particularly extensive data analyses to recognize weak spots become currently more important“, comments HDE Chief Executive Officer Stefan Genth.

Only the combination of man and technology is successful

Genth thus already outlined the recipe for success for comprehensive protection against theft: retail invests both in security personnel as well as in modern safety features and equipment, since both have their own respective weaknesses. After all, even the most sophisticated technology cannot replace the intuition and experience of a skilled store detective. On the other hand, a detective is also not able to keep his/her eyes on everybody. Comprehensive video surveillance helps in this case (perhaps even supplemented with intelligent video analysis) to detect thefts and suspicious behavior that would otherwise potentially escaped the store detective.

“The gut instinct of the security staff is the most important tool when it comes to combating theft”, Jens Dubberke, Marketing Director at video security specialist Aasset Security, also confirms. “But store detectives also have the issue that it is quite difficult for them to watch criminal activities without attracting attention. And once they reveal their identity as detectives, it is unfortunately easy for thieves to anticipate them. That said, they benefit from their trained eye and experience with people of course.“

However, with the help of video technology, the store detective can possibly also spot thefts from the control center, since he/she simply has a better view over the store than if he/she walks through the aisles.

Smaller retailers in particular benefit from the new video technology

If the combined use of man and technology promises the biggest success, it also means double the investment. This is why it can be more beneficial for smaller retailers to completely rely on video surveillance. Data analysis software observes customers and nowadays can reliably identify suspicious behavior. This is why these days especially smaller retailers completely rely on digital store detectives to expose thieves.

The rise of video analysis

According to an EHI Retail Institute study, already 80 percent of big retailers in Germany are equipped with video systems. Many utilize the available analysis function of special software packages, which offer several advantages: they feature a pre-buffer function for example, with which the prior 30 seconds before the theft can be shown. This way, store detectives are able to study the thief’s behavior and take action if needed.

The analyzed factors can include very different motion patterns: some systems register conspicuous facial expressions, such as sudden sweat outbreaks for instance. If the photos of notorious thieves are stored in a database, an alarm is already triggered as soon as registered persons enter the store. Walking patterns of customers can also be analyzed. While analyzing thefts, detectives get tips on the typical behavior of thieves.

Staff training should not be neglected

For security solutions to be able to achieve their full joint potential, it is important for security personnel to be trained in the use of technology and to be able to use it safely on a daily basis. Everything else after that is a question of staff experience. The behavior of professional thieves is often hard to spot, even with the most modern analysis software. An experienced store detective on the other hand already notices the smallest clues and is able to judge them correctly.

Combination of all security options

One thing is therefore certain: you cannot exchange one security solution for another. A sensible combination of systems is more important. The deterrent effect of well visible cameras should not be underestimated and can possibly at least prevent spontaneous thefts.

Daniel Stöter;