LaRocca on Trends in Retail Surveillance

By Carlton Purvis, Published Jul 15, 2013, 12:00am EDT

Is there a camera layout formula that can be effective in any retail store to help protect it from shrinkage? Joe LaRocca [link no longer available], former National Retail Federation executive and founder of Retail Partners [link no longer available] says there is. We recently interviewed LaRocca on maximizing  the effectiveness of surveillance cameras with strategic camera placement and the two trends he sees in retail surveillance: remote monitoring and health and safety compliance.

Highlights 

  • One camera layout that works for almost every store
  • Retailers are increasingly relying on remote monitoring
  • Cameras for health and safety compliance are becoming more common

The Most Effective Camera Layout

In his experience, the most effective camera layout for retail stores is also one of the most basic, but having cameras in these three locations will provide evidence in most scenarios. 

“The standard camera layout is front door, back door, register and highly trafficked areas. And that's not going to change much for preventing amateur to professional [shoplifters]. Then you add cameras focusing on things that are targeted for theft.” he says.

High Traffic Areas

The most important cameras are those trained on high traffic areas. “Your most important product is typically in the busiest places so now you’re automatically in surveillance mode of that high demand product. Because the area heavily trafficked, it’s also most likely to capture anything from pickpockets to people needing assistance to potential theft issues.” Additionally high traffics areas are usually areas where people will pass through to get from one part of the store to another. 

Targeted Areas/Items

High traffic area cameras are supplemented by cameras that target specific high value items or targeted areas of the store. “For example, most box stores that have security cameras will have specific cameras that cover the jewelry section,” he said. These are the cameras relied on to provide evidence on method used to steal merchandise and the description of the suspect, and are most valuable when monitored in real time. LaRocca says many stores have these cameras integrate with RFID tags or alerts when people enter those zones.

Front/Back Doors

Cameras at the front doors should supplement the cameras in the store and be in a position to provide images of a person’s face as they are going and coming.

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“The way you deploy video surveillance at a company regardless of the size is important. You may put 100 cameras in a location but if they’re not targeted in the right place or if it’s not for the sole purpose of reducing shrink then you’re not going to see a reduction in property loss from a store,” he says. Additionally for maximum effectiveness against loss prevention, the cameras must be monitored. 

Retail Analytics and Business Intelligence

LaRoccca says retail analytics have been "extremely effective" for stores and that he sees its use growing rapidly because of the value it brings to businesses, outside of loss prevention. In the last two to five years, he says he has seen broader use and several successful large scale deployments using retail analytics. In fact, he says most big box stores use some form of retail analytics.

"Historically, video was the loss prevention department's responsibility. Now, they still may be responsible for installation, maintenance and management of the system, but now they're providing access to traditional security equipment to make real time business decisions," he said. And that doesn't just mean people counting.

"With some analytics you're actually getting adult vs. children, male vs female, what people are entering stores with your competitor's shopping bag. You can see how a floor plan looks after the layout changes from Spring to Summer. There's dwell times and conversion rates (the rate of people who come in the leave with an item). It's used when you need to make lighting decisions. Or even if the question is 'Why is the electricity bill so high,' you can look and see if someone is leaving the lights on. This is really valuable information."

"The loss prevention people who had to fight for every single camera and the DVR and the bandwidth, you'll now find those are fast-tracked through IT or finance department because it's providing data that everybody wants," he says. 

That noted, it is still not clear to us, how widely advanced retail analytics are being used in production. While we have talked to many retailers who have done pilots or small scale deployments, frequently they explain to us that they have chosen not to broadly expand due to cost and complexity.

More Remote Monitoring

The cost of security cameras was more of an issue 10-15 years ago, now its not a question of whether a store can buy cameras, but of if they can afford remote monitoring.  Most stores will have a DVR on site, but more are sending live video elsewhere because they have the bandwidth to transmit video.

“The technology is better today, the pipes are bigger and due to the recession, companies are looking for ways to reduce cost. When you have that overwatch capability, it doesn’t really matter where you are located. If I’m sitting in an office on the third floor broom closet or sitting in the corporate office the next state over, that knowledge of the store and the relationship with the people on the ground functions in much the same way in either case,” LaRocca says.

Health and Safety

Anticipating big payouts from slip and fall claims “leads people to do some incredible things,” LaRocca says. Cameras are increasingly going beyond physical being used for health and safety in retail environments

“Those cameras provide time and time again and its great evidence in court ... If you have one or two slip and fall claims a year, a camera system will pay for itself over and over again every year. The same is true with back rooms with ladder accidents: the cameras is capturing what really happens and that evidence is later used in court,” he said. 

They are also being used to verify that food and pharmaceuticals are being shipped and stored properly and to provide evidence of tampering.

Retail's Role in Preventing Domestic Attacks

Over the last decade, DHS has increasingly asked the retail sector to take up a role in preventing terrorism. I asked LaRocca if expecting retailers to use their systems to keep an eye out for terrorist/suspicious activity in addition to their loss prevention, is giving them an increasing responsibility in a role most are not adequately trained for.

"It's not too much to ask," LaRocca said. "Security is everyone's responsibility. The overarching message that DHS and other agencies have pushed out is 'See Something, Say Something' and be vigilant. I think retailers play an important part in that statement because retail employees one in four Americans ... If the stores can lend a hand and that video becomes helpful. In some cases they are under court order to provide the information and in many cases they are providing it because it's the right thing to do.” He noted that surveillance from retail stores was used in investigations of both 9/11 and The Boston Bombing. 

CCTV Won't Protect Retail Stores from Flash Mobs

"Regarding flash mobs, CCTV did not have the deterrent effect that most companies would hope for. When offenders get in 'mob mentality' they tend to see past any of the traditional security layers (cameras, gates, alarm systems, etc.) and commit crimes," LaRocca says. For these types of crimes CCTV's main benefit is to help identify offenders after the fact. 

"In Montgomery County, Maryland, law enforcement used the CCTV video on YouTube and by soliciting help from the community to identify the suspects involved, over a dozen offenders including many juveniles with no previous public record were identified and processed," LaRocca said. 

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