Minimising shrink: retail security solutions

by FM Media
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In 2011, the retail industry incurred a $1.94 million loss due to theft-related crime. ANNE LAYTON-BENNETT explores new retail security solutions available in the Australian marketplace.

The current economically uncertain times are a challenge for everyone, but for retailers the challenges have been further compounded by increases in both customer and employee theft. According to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, an annual survey that has been monitoring retail shrinkage in Australia for the last five years and which is underwritten by the Australian branch of Checkpoint Systems, retailers experienced a 2.9 percent increase in shrinkage from theft-related crime during 2010/11. This translates into a $1.94 million loss for the industry. So, it is no wonder that companies specialising in retail loss prevention are constantly striving to develop innovative products designed to thwart criminals.

One challenge currently facing many retailers is the misappropriation of shopping trolleys. To combat this issue, Vitag, an Australian owned and operated security company, is introducing innovative shopping trolleys into several Queensland shopping centres. These trolleys have a unique inbuilt security system that prevents them being taken beyond the shopping centre’s perimeter.
The system, which has been developed by Gatekeeper Systems, works by combining a digitally encoded radio frequency locking signal, an embedded perimeter antenna and a self-braking standard-size wheel. It can fit virtually any trolley and can be installed either in the field or at the factory by the trolley manufacturer. The trolleys are designed to operate on any floor surface and can be used both inside and outdoors.
While Ross Gaudion, national sales manager for Vitag, hopes all states will eventually recognise these unique trolleys’ potential to reduce the number of abandoned shopping trolleys found on streets or rusting in waterways, he notes that it was Queensland’s particular local council legislation that prompted Vitag’s initial partnership with Woolworths to introduce the trolleys there first.
Store owners in Queensland whose shopping trolleys are found abandoned outside a shopping centre’s immediate environs are not only hit with local council fines, they also lose their trolleys, which the council collects and destroys, so the expense to retailers can prove considerable.
“It’s keeping the streets a lot cleaner, which is what councils want, since we’re supplying a system whereby once a trolley gets to the shopping centre’s periphery and goes over that, the wheels lock up and the only way to unlock them is by moving back to within the perimeter area,” says Gaudion. Although designed in the US, Gatekeeper Systems’ trolleys are distributed in Australia exclusively by Vitag.

Inbuilt security systems can ensure that trolleys are not taken beyond a shopping centre’s perimeter.

All the companies contacted for this article agreed that there is definitely a focus on developing improvements towards minimising the theft of electronic items like mobile phones and iPads. ADT Security has taken this to the next level through its development of the Duonell Interactive Display Unit, and a facial detection and tracking device that allows retailers to monitor customer behaviour.
Phil Brown, ADT national retail manager, says the Duonell unit encourages interaction by allowing customers to hold and trial products while they are switched on and fully functional. Retailers are assured of advanced inbuilt security through an anti-theft device, which emits a sound if the product is forcibly removed.
“Retailers can easily program these touch screens in a variety of ways to suit their needs, creating a positive environment for sales, while allowing shoppers to access fully functional high-end items,” he says.
The customer tracking technology is designed to be used in conjunction with store performance analytics to offer retailers a better understanding of customer behaviour while remaining fully sensitive to requirements for customer privacy and anonymity. No footage is recorded.
Downloadable reports can be produced with details of customer preferences and store activity – for example, statistics about a product’s popularity – and the average time customers spend researching items on the touch screens. “Using these new tools, retailers can identify hot and cold spots on the shopfloor and position products and promotional material accordingly, as well as measure the effectiveness of point-of-sale displays and marketing,” says Brown.

In addition to minimising shopping trolley misappropriation, there is currently a focus on developing improvements towards minimising the theft of electronic items like mobile phones and iPads. Means of tagging items so as to increase traceability and discourage theft is also a priority.

According to Mark Gentle, managing director of Checkpoint, “The issue is understanding what’s occurring in the marketplace, and where the problems are, and developing solutions accordingly.” The company has developed, in partnership with NanoTag Technologies, what it describes as the “world’s first anti-counterfeiting solution”. The product, NanoTag Labelling Protection System, was launched earlier this year. It ensures that individual components of a marked item are traceable and easily authenticated, thus preventing theft and/or counterfeiting.
NanoTags can be incorporated into all fabric and paper labels, either directly on the product itself, or on the product’s packaging in the case of perishables, providing the ability to prove ownership of the product and a guarantee that the product is genuine. The tags were designed following extensive collaboration with both manufacturers and retailers. A NanoTag Warning Shield is placed on products, informing a potential thief that the item contains hidden NanoTags, which will make it more difficult for them to sell the item on, thus causing them to rethink stealing the item.
Gentle says the concept of the labelling system’s unique holographic logo, with its alpha-numeric security identification code permanently etched into the microscopic tags, will be a technological game-breaker, since it makes replication virtually impossible.
“It is exciting technology that Checkpoint worked on for 12 months before it was launched earlier this year. Stolen brand-sensitive items, such as Louis Vuitton handbags, which may be offered for sale later on eBay, are traceable and can be readily detected. Products can also be identified as counterfeit if they lack these unique NanoTag identification features,” he says.
Gentle adds that a collaborative process was essential in order to successfully develop security solutions that can be adapted to suit both individual retailers and a range of different products. Extensive trials have been carried out with big name retailers overseas to prove losses decreased after the NanoTag labels were applied.
With these latest security solutions retailers are well-positioned to remain several steps ahead of their light-fingered customers and staff – at least for now.

Anne Layton-Bennett is a freelance writer based in Tasmania.

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