Retailers need to re-think how they protect the in-store experience
Retailers need to re-think how they protect the in-store experience

With an increase in online shopping and reduced footfall in high street shops, retailers are gradually re-imagining the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. After making their first shop public in January, Amazon Go announced that it will be looking to open as many as six new stores in 2018.  Additionally, in the UK, The Co-Op announced that it will be launching an app that will enable customers to scan products as they shop, and have a ‘frictionless' customer experience without having to go through the check-out aisle.  As customers place increasing emphasis on the ease of the shopping experience and prompt service delivery, these innovations will continue to gain momentum.  

Simultaneously, retailers are having to deal with a rise in in-store theft in recent years. In 2017, retail crime increased by 15 percent, with the amount spent on retail crime prevention reaching a record high of £700 million, according to this year's British Retail Crime Survey. Changing the in-store customer experience often encourages retailers to reduce the staff on the ground, which may pose a higher risk of retail crime. To facilitate the move towards a favourable customer experience whilst addressing the increase in store theft, retailers need to re-evaluate their approach towards retail crime prevention. 

Amazon has taken a high-tech approach, investing in face recognition and motion sensors within its new stores, using the same technology as self-driven cars.  This includes Laser Illuminating Detection and Ranging devices, which use laser beams to decipher changes in movement and surroundings. They are also using high powered cameras, which, much like the human eye, provide overlapping images and can detect the depth of the field, peripheral movement and the dimensions of objects. However, despite high-tech investment, it is possible for individuals to thwart this technology – sometimes by simply wearing a cap over their face! 

A softer touch and more cost-effective approach to in-store theft may also be possible, driven by data. A whole host of information can be used to help prevent theft. The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags enables retailers to collect a constant stream of data. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which are used to transmit data to the RFID reader. The reader then converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data. 

Data from RFID tags can be used for both real-time and historical reporting, allowing retailers to track which products have been picked up and moved around most. These are often vulnerable to being stolen. Using this in-store Wi-Fi network, customer journey patterns can also be used to design a store plan which would place the most vulnerable items in the most secure location. This could be under the watchful eye of the store manager, perhaps, or right at the back of the store. 

Retail crime prevention can be boiled down to the data of ‘Who What and Where'. Looking at the data from customers who are logged into in-store WiFi, for instance, store managers can access a real-time view of the movement in their stores, identifying the customers present and areas where there is crowding. By monitoring times and days where increased in-store traffic is recurring, it may be possible to notice unusual crowding within the store and address it appropriately by putting more staff on duty during busier times. Similarly, RFID tags give insights into movement of high-value products through the stores. Data can also be used to identify busy periods of the day or the week to increase vigilance accordingly.

Data-driven security measures can prove to be a robust and cost-effective approach towards in-store crime prevention. With the reduced reliance on ground staff, including security personnel, theft prevention has to be re-imagined as an intrinsic part of the store structure and the customer journey. Tracing shopping patterns, analysing the collected data and mapping out store plans may be the answer retailers are looking for. 

Contributed by Matt Sebek, vice president of digital at World Wide Technology

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.