Big Box Retailer Resists IP Cameras

By Carlton Purvis, Published on Feb 27, 2014

There is a major big box retailer that still only uses analog cameras and, at some of their stores, have been using the same cameras since the late 1990s. We talked with a loss prevention manager with the company about why the company is slow to change.

Early Adopters of Technology

What you will find in almost all of KMarts are complete analog systems, he says. The manager says the company was an early adopter of new surveillance technology coming out in the 1990s. It purchased systems for its stores then, and they still work.

“They don’t see a reason to invest in the new technology if the old stuff works just fine,” he said. “We’re not having major camera malfunctions or system failures.”

He says the stores loss prevention operation is Ganz analog cameras and Sensormatics. Shrink is down to acceptable levels at his store, but overall the company has not met its shrink goals.

"A lot of your shrink comes from paperwork and shipping errors, only a small percentage comes from external theft. Internal theft accounts for a much bigger piece of the pie," he said.

Since its peak in the 1990s the company has filed for bankruptcy, been acquired by another company and trying to regain its footing in retail. However, there are plans to close more than 100 stores [link no longer available] and more than a dozen are scheduled to close this year.

Impact on Loss Prevention Activities

The manager says the impact on loss prevention activities is minimal because in the absence of new technology they have had to find ways to maximize what they do have.

Tracking

For example at the store where he primarily works, he uses PTZs, but most of the chain’s cameras are fixed. He says having fixed cameras gives them limited capability when it comes to tracking suspects in the store in real time but they are good for finding trends in shoplifting, like why items on a certain shelf keep going missing for example and targeting organized retail crime schemes that rely on emptying a shelf of merchandise into a cart.

Image Quality

He says in stores staffed less than his it would make a huge difference for operators to be able to use virtual PTZ controls and “it would nice to have a 10 megapixel door camera to get faces.”

Expandability

“The ability to add cameras at the flip of a switch would be huge for us instead of having to run a cable from the back of the store clear across to the LP office. That’s not something the non-floor level, executive guy is going to understand. As long as you’re still getting results, it’s going to be hard to tell them it’s time to switch to IP,” he said.

Moving to IP

The chain’s parent company, Sears Holdings, is considering IP-based systems to better integrate remote access to cameras and scalability, however they haven't yet expressed interest in updating the chain's stores. Cameras are usually replaced with whatever cheap camera they can find.

“Executives look a numbers. They look at dollars and cents,” he said. “They see a $39 dollar dome camera from china and the next thing you know that's the camera you’re getting to replace a PTZ.”

He does think, however, that the parent company's interested in IP is a sign that one day they may move in that direction.

“It’s gotten to the point where IP is so competitively priced that they can’t ignore it anymore," he said.

Store Closings

Recent media reports say the store plans to close 16 stores this year. Possibly part of a plan announced in 2011 to close 100-120 stores. Maybe the company is wondering what the point of upgrading security technology is, if so many stores are being closed. With that many issues, security may not be a high priority expenditure.

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