It certainly is not easy being a retailer today. There are so many different fronts to cover. From keeping customers happy to competing efficiently and seeing to security and management functions, the tasks at hand can seem overwhelming at times.

Security is always an issue. But concerns have shifted somewhat from traditional shoplifting to internal theft, where the majority of retail losses occur. There’s also newfound concern over surveillance, privacy and keeping watch over confidential data added overall to the mix.

It takes a multifaceted, integrated system to get the job done for all sizes of operations. And as such, manufacturers have been hard at working to stretch the limits of security and adding appeal to their products through greater functionality.

The future is now

It’s rare for a newer system, or even a revamped or upgraded older one, to serve a single function. Access control is seldom used alone, often coupled with time and attendance or other building controls. In addition, biometrics continues to find widespread acceptance in time and attendance and other critical management functions.

Sure, there’s still electronic article surveillance (EAS) or the tags that guard physical pieces of merchandise and property, especially higher priced items. But now, these and other types of radio frequency-controlled devices have evolved, as have other products, to serve additional functions as well, including tracking movement of a product within a store and even the shopping habits and traits of those who frequent the establishment.

The (London) Evening Standard reported that a supermarket overseas recently tested an anti-theft system that takes pictures of people buying their products. A microchip the size of a grain of sand was attached to each product, and when someone removed the product from a display, it triggered an in-store closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance camera. The CCTV images are destroyed once a product passes through the checkout and the customer has paid. If they don’t pay, the images may be used to prosecute thieves. Of course, technology such as this conjures up privacy concerns from the public and will continue to do so.

Gillette recently said it will not use “smart tags” similar to the ones used at the supermarket above to track its products and photograph shoppers. The company was looking for a way to prevent theft of its razor blades, a definite loss leader for the company.

These types of smart tags can be attached to products in supermarkets and convenience stores and have become the tiniest components ever. The tag is a radio frequency identification chip and antenna and sends a signal to a security camera. The camera, often in a motorized dome, captures images. The radio frequency receivers are built into store shelves.

Straight to video

Video is often part of a retailer’s arsenal of security, and that trend is expected to continue. According to Brian Mathieu, vice president of Securitas Security Systems Response Group, Boston, the biggest insurgence of video technology is in the retail sector, where it can serve a multitude of functions. “Regional loss prevention people can look into a store over the Internet,” he said. “Shoplifting is an issue, but a dishonest employee is in the store every day.”

“The focus is still on stopping employee theft,” Mathieu continued. “Unfortunately, you can’t remotely stop a shoplifter. Many larger stores, such as Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, have dedicated shoplifting personnel on staff at all times. But the ultimate emphasis is on securing merchandise from employee theft.”

Interfacing video with other management functions, such as point-of-sale transactions, is another hot trend for retail operations. GE Interlogix Video Systems Group, Corvallis, Ore., recently developed an interface for its Kalatel digital video system called the ProBridge 3, which was installed for Gilbarco and its G-SITE Gas Pumps. Now, the gas pump point-of-sale system combines a comprehensive electronic cash register with an island controller that communicates sales and inventory data to the user’s home or back-office personal computer, further extending the practicality of video surveillance and integrated solutions.

With this product, gas station management can capture POS transaction text, associate it with the correct video and record it on internal hard drives. This allows personnel to quickly search for video using receipt text such as a credit-cardholder name or number, dollar amount or number of gallons, to locate desired digital images.

Save time, money, more

“Convenience stores and gas station management can instantly access and view live or recorded video from any networked POS register using a personal computer,” explained Darren Nicholson, GE Interlogix Video Systems Group vice president of marketing. “Since they can search quickly for video by transaction text, users can dramatically reduce the time it takes to identify a license plate or person and pass that information along to law enforcement. They can also quickly provide authorities with actual recorded images on a CD or via e-mail,” he said.

Kwik Trip Convenience Stores, based in La Crosse, Wis., uses its digital video system to monitor the activities of their store clerks. The company has a policy that clerks should never have more than one $20 bill in the cash register. Any additional $20 bills are put into the locked drop box to minimize the impact if a robbery occurs. To assure that clerks adhere to this policy and others, store managers review their recordings weekly. According to Gene Johnson, Security Coordinator for Adams Columbia Electric Cooperative, Kwik Trip’s dealer-partner, most problems are shoplifting or gas drive-offs. With the digital system, Kwik Trip can identify criminals with details captured on camera and recorded.

Another critical component of video surveillance is recording. Digital video recorders are equally important tools for retailers looking for multitasking, multi-application systems. These products work seamlessly with access control, alarm panels, ATMs, cash registers and more. In addition, internal motion detection capabilities allow for smart detection and recording capabilities.

According to Rudy Prorokupets, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Lenel Systems International, Pittsford, N.Y., one of the major trends in the retail industry is the move to digital video recording systems and technology and all it has to offer. Some of the major retail customers Lenel deals with have already fulfilled their first needs and moved to DVRs. Now, they want to know all about what else they can do with this technology, he said.

“Digital video is a management system,” he said “It’s integrated with security, access control, intrusion detection and more. About 90 percent of the interest from retailers we have been in contact with concerns digital video management systems,” he said.

“Right now, end-users are a bit conservative. They want to manage digital video from a central enterprise server. They love the concept, but want to try it out on several locations before they make the jump system wide,” he said. Prorokupets said there is also more of a trend to intelligent video in retail applications. For example, intelligent video would provide the ability to sense if an object is static or moved, or even, if too many employees are stationed too long in one location of the facility. “It can track employees as well,” he said. “Expect to see the continued integration of physical and logical security.”

Biometrics is also gaining speed in retail operations, especially to track employees. Biometrics may include fingerprint and hand geometry units, as well as facial, retinal scanning and other high-tech security solutions that focus on specific, unique facial and other characteristics.

IR Recognition Systems, the biometric component of Ingersoll-Rand’s IR Security and Safety Group’s Electronic Access Control Division, Campbell, Calif., is helping deploy its HandPunch terminals to clock employees in and out of businesses such as the Don Carter All-Star Lanes bowling alley. The hand geometry units save the corporation between 400 and 500 hours of payroll preparation time per year. It also eliminates time cards, in addition to automating security and payroll. The system also eliminates buddy punching, a “friendly fraud,” said Bill Spence, IR’sdirector of marketing. “The HandPunch assures that the person checking in is physically there.”

With a product such as HandPunch, users no longer have to calculate payroll manually. The manager can pull all punches, merge data, produce time and attendance reports, run overtime information and analyze it all quickly and efficiently.

In other words, there’s no single solution which security directors, loss prevention consultants or other personnel look for in their stores—it’s a total, holistic approach that is most attractive, especially when the buyer can further justify his expenditures with a list of features, functions and applications that stretch beyond security.

Digital world

Statistics by the Freedonia Group, Cleveland, state that one of the most important developments in the industry is the continued digitization of security components, which allow greater intelligence to be built into items ranging from alarm sensors to CCTV cameras and recorders to EAS, asset management and access control cards. On the retail side, the Freedonia Group studies indicate that CCTV and EAS have proven quite effective at lowering retail shrinkage and continue to show rapid price/performance improvements, supporting a thriving upgrade market.

Security is important, but it has also become the basis for deploying additional management tools now being used by retail stores across the country. Added functionality and application possibilities will continue to push this market into the future.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.