Brendan Musgrove, Managing Director of retail security specialist, TSS (Total Security Services), an Allied Universal company, provides an overview of the security threats faced by the retail sector, and five ways to help ensure businesses stay one step ahead through security best practice.
The threats facing the retail sector include:
Threats to staff
All UK employers are required to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees under government legislation and regulations. However, over the last few years, the level of physical violence and abuse directed towards retail workers has increased significantly. Retail frontline workers face a variety of threats and abuse, often triggered by disputes relating to the enforcement of shop policies or other regulations, such as age restrictions or refusing to serve intoxicated customers.
Loss of stock
Asset loss, mainly through stock, is one of the biggest threats that retailers face and can occur in a number of ways, including operational errors, external theft, and internal theft.
During the employee recruitment process, retailers need to undertake thorough background checks, including criminal records and employment history. It is also important to train staff on security protocols, including identifying and reporting potential thefts. Technological solutions may also be employed, such as surveillance and other monitoring systems.
Measures to reduce shoplifting should include the design and layout of the store, as well as employing suitably experienced and qualified security officers and appropriate security technology solutions.
The growing use of self-scanning has also contributed to in-store losses, whether through theft or genuine error. Recent UK research found that customers are three times more likely to steal when using self-service checkouts, compared to stealing straight from the shelves.
There are also many types of return fraud, including attempting to get a refund for goods that have been stolen.
Theft of cash
Although the number of cash payments has decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic, cash continues to be a major part of our economy and remains an attractive target through till snatches or cash-in-transit attacks.
In 2022, the BRC reported that for 2020/21 the sector lost £16.8 million to burglary, and the 2021 Commercial Victimization Survey reported that 11% of wholesale and retail sector organisations had experienced burglary. As well as the loss of merchandise, these crimes often involve costly damage to premises.
Damage and vandalism
Retailers have seen a significant increase in protests and demonstrations, often taking place at and around retailers’ stores or distribution centres. They can include campaigns against the use of animal products and other ethical issues, along with energy and cost of living protests. These events often result in damage to buildings.
During 2020/21, the BRC reported that £76 million was lost to online theft, half to physical theft of packages from vans or post boxes, and the remaining half to online fraud. Fraudsters can find holes in the retail organisation’s online security and access customer details, which they can use these to steal money or use individuals’ details to purchase goods online.
Supply chain threats
Threats against retail also exist within the supply chain, either when goods are held in storage facilities or in transit. Threats may come from those internal to the organisation or external, and in some cases of organised criminals, may involve people from both groups.
In addition to the usual surveillance and monitoring systems, some warehouse and retail owners are now employing high-performance people-screening technology to detect and deter theft. These systems can identify all types of materials hidden under clothing and are fast and respectful to employees, as no physical contact is involved.
Data theft and reputational damage
An external data breach is likely to have a serious impact on the reputation of a retailer and will also take a lot of time, money and resources to overcome. Retailers need to ensure that their databases are secure and resistant to hacks. Strong passwords, firewalls and security software should be in place. Retailers also need to ensure that they have robust vulnerability and patch management programmes to minimise vulnerability in their IT systems.
Five Ways to Stay Ahead of the Threat
1 – Intelligence is Key
It is important to have the correct resources, in the correct position, at the correct time. By bringing together data from national, regional, internal and external sources, your security provider should be able to identify the highest risk areas in your estate and recommend the right combination of resources and security services to protect your people, property and assets.
Detailed analysis of crime statistics, Government data and demographics, together with a full review of incidents reported, will enable you to build a detailed picture and make informed decisions on what to deploy and where to deploy it.
This process is important to give you confidence that your money and effort is being spent in the right way.
2 – Share Information
As incidents occur, it is critical that information is shared quickly and effectively to drive a proactive approach to security.
This may mean the security provider sharing incidents collaboratively across a network of stores, working in partnership with the police, or even creating a network of retailers who are prepared to share crime and incident data.
Whilst the delivery of frontline security is critical, security providers should also be judged on how effective they are at proactive information sharing.
3 – Engage, Motivate and Train
The security provider should be able to demonstrate a fit for purpose training and education programme to ensure that officers are equipped with the right skills. As an example, with the increase in violence and aggression following the pandemic, the use of de-escalation techniques is increasingly important.
In addition, security officers are often the first interaction with the public, so a friendly and professional approach is critical to enhance the visitor experience. The officers should be provided with clear information and support, as well as reward and recognition programmes to ensure high standards are achieved.
4 – Don’t Let Officers Work in Isolation
There is a limit to the effectiveness of an officer if he / she operates in isolation. Evidence shows that a ‘Connected Officer’ will deliver a far higher level of security and provide superior visibility of their performance. By making good use of technology and equipping officers with smart devices the officer has access to a host of tools that prevent them operating in isolation.
A Connected Officer can deliver a more proactive security service. By retaining a real time connection with a control centre, the officer is armed with greater situational awareness. It can also lead to increased engagement as the officer can access training and company information. Finally, the technology can provide centralised visibility of key incidents and tasks, creating a more transparent approach to service delivery.
5 – Simplify the Security Supply Chain
Retailers can achieve greater security accountability by rationalising the security supply chain and working with one provider who can combine personnel delivery with technology, risk analysis and intelligence.