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Emerging Technology: Summer 24' Series

Positive friction: the connected loss prevention ecosystem

Loss prevention professionals are enhancing safety and security, while increasing efficiencies, through the use of cutting-edge technology // By Stephen O’Keefe

Ona busy Friday afternoon in your local retail store, there is a tremendous amount of activity taking place on the salesfloor, and behind the scenes, too. It’s not uncommon for a store’s security system to be sounding an alarm at the exit as a confused customer looks around, not understanding that it’s the result of a cashier’s failure to remove a security tag from an item they just purchased. Nor is it rare for the faint sound of a fire alarm to be heard ringing in the distance as a thief attempts to make a quick getaway with merchandise, or for other alarms to be triggered by the swaying of front-end security gates as another shopper crashes through them toward the exit with a shopping cart full of goods. And, overhead public address announcements resonate throughout the store asking for customer service representatives to go to one of the many departments where highly-pilfered goods are now locked up, requiring customers to wait patiently in order to make a purchase, sometimes turning a routine pickup into a half-hour ordeal.

With all of the alarms and whistles sounding, it’s no wonder employees aren’t able to hear the bell for the back door ringing, alerting them to the delivery-person that’s trying to drop off a shipment of goods. Further, with all the excitement, noise and frenetic activity that’s commonplace in stores today, any brand’s claim of a frictionless shopping experience is considered a myth by most annoyed customers. And, on top of all of this, the security person that’s expected to be creating a visual deterrence to theft and responding to many of these alarms is nowhere to be seen. Instead, they’re trying to investigate activity from a day earlier, piecing together events from a host of stored video clips captured by a number of different cameras located throughout the store.

In light of this less-than-flattering description of the experience, a number of questions beg: has loss prevention, as some critics claim, truly become sales prevention? Have our security systems become so intrusive that the honest customer feels guilty whenever they walk through the front doors of their local retail shop? But… more importantly - how do we address this notion of hardening stores as a target to the organized criminal underworld that’s preying on the ease of reselling stolen goods in a ubiquitous social media era of grey market commerce?

Well, in short, all of these questions and challenges can be answered and met with the development of a loss prevention asset protection ecosystem of integrated solutions. Afterall, the success of any retailer is measured by one fundamental driving principle - that the retailer can grow their top line while controlling their expenses in order to maximize their bottom line. Simply stated, and complex to achieve, but the bottom line matters.

Enhancing processes and efficiencies

The Ford Motor Company discovered in the early 20th century that the way by which it could increase adoption of its product among the public was to make it more affordable to the end consumer. This was facilitated by lowering the cost to produce automobiles, which was enabled through enhanced efficiencies within the company’s processes. It remains a truism today, as retailers strive to create clear and concise standard operating practices, spend top dollar to rally the troops so that every employee is aligned to the strategy and the goals of the company, and continuously improve processes that have been identified as deficient or instrumental in causing a loss. But there remain several unknowns that occur as evidenced by retailers’ inventory reconciliation, which are typically categorized using the terminology “shrinkage”.

Shrink and crime

The majority of shrinkage is related to criminal activity whereby employees or customers steal or defraud the retailer for personal gain. That personal gain can be as basic as shoplifting an item or two for personal use, or as felonious as outright robbery for the purpose of resale, and for any number of reasons in between.

Most retailers around the world would agree that there’s a growing global phenomenon of criminal activity currently occurring in stores. Regardless of the current debate over the validity of a “shrink survey” - which carries with it a significant amount of opinion related to the use of data that attributes a portion of the criminally-charged losses to certain categories - the fact is that, as a retailer, you are inherently subject to a criminal element that wishes to prey upon the fact that you sell a commodity which can be traded on the legitimate market and, alternatively, traded within an underground market for nefarious purposes as well. In plainer terms - loss caused by thieves is a growing concern within the industry.

There are many reasons that help explain why this is happening. Some of these reasons are within the grasp of a retailer’s control. And some are arguably completely out of their hands. Need, greed and other socio-economic conditions are difficult for a standalone store to protect itself against, as are substance abuse and mental health issues. However, what is directly felt in full by retailers is the loss caused by crime, which can result in the loss of product, loss as a result of damaged property and fixtures and, at times, the unthinkable loss of life.

Positive friction required?

Many retailers over the past decade have been pushing for a frictionless shopping environment for their customers to enjoy. “Remove the barriers”. “Create an omnichannel offering”. “Provide a frictionless shopping experience for the customer”. These are statements, among others, that have recently been made by various retail experts at conferences across the continent, conveying the direction in which they think today’s customer wants to go. And the criminals have been all over it, promptly taking advantage of the trend. In fact, in many cases, criminals have been enjoying the frictionless experience by simply walking out of an unprotected store with as much product as they can carry or wheel out in a shopping cart.

As shrinkage has grown to levels greater than they have been in over three decades, the call is now for retailers to take back their stores, to harden themselves as targets. And this, it could be argued, suggests that perhaps a little friction might be required in order to safeguard its product and customers. The fine balance approach, however, is more of an attitude towards positive friction. Trust, but verify!

Creating a safe and secure environment

Retail security and safety professionals are charged with the challenge of creating and ensuring a safe and secure environment for the brands they represent. In order to protect people and assets, there is a heavy reliance on technology. However, most often, the use of technology has traditionally been part of a band-aid approach to unique situations - a medley of systems by no means acting in concert with one another.

Over the past few years, solution partners (vendors and suppliers of security devices and software) have been tasked with collaborating to create a synergy of systems for businesses. One device must inform another to establish a continuity of activity that a loss preventer can deal with effectively and quickly. And, these connections must be seamless, and must not impede on the fundamental reason store doors open to the public - to provide them with the goods and services they want and need, when they want to shop. Recent language has been used to describe this as a ‘loss prevention ecosystem’.

In any environment where multiple systems join together to form a network, the fundamental guiding principle is that a response is required to deal with exceptions, outliers, or anomalies. If this is not the case, then the store would simply be filled with a lot of noise. The only way people are able to respond to an event is if they are aware that the event is taking place. Motorola Solutions has been an instrumental component within some of the most successful security operations, from basic safety systems to the most complex military deployments. Distributed by Lenbrook Canada for the retail sector, radios have taken on a critical role in the underlying loss prevention management system that preserves and protects retailers’ bottom line from erosion due to criminal activity.

How the system works

Whenever an alert, alarm, or notification is generated by the Motorola device, a signal is sent to a central hub. The central hub is a dynamic network component that receives messages depending on the structure of the individual end-user’s ecosystem, and determines how the communication network functions in order for the notification to be sent to the right person. The hub then sends an audio message to a predefined responder via direct audio link or using 900 MHz signals to the Motorola CURVE 2-way radio.

It’s important to note that these devices are the same fundamental devices that comprise the communication network for Operations in order to meet the wants and needs of the customer in a noise free environment. However, today’s units serve more as an audio email network. A supervisor can leave a message for a distribution list the day before they start their shift. When they retrieve their device and sign into the network at the beginning of their next shift, the message plays out for each person that the supervisor wants to speak to. Likewise, customer service BOLOs (be on the look-out) can be sent at any time to keep employees alert should there be a need to address a risk or threat in the area. Indeed, the Motorola CURVE 2-way radio has come a long way!

The broken telephone analogy

Most of us have fine memories of the childhood game of broken telephone. The game in which people, sitting in a circle, pass along a whispered phrase to one another until the phrase returns to its originator. And, most often, by the time the message is conveyed back to its originator, it’s become so altered that it might not have any semblance to the original message. In fact, the message is typically so diluted that it no longer makes any legible sense whatsoever.

This game of broken telephone, however, is not isolated to child-play. It happens in the business world every day. And, at times, it can result in catastrophic consequences. The clear and concise transfer of information is critical in order to make an educated decision about any situation. One occurrence must inform another. This is why the integrated solutions coming out of the loss prevention community are so critical. If the bad guys are organized, then the preventative and investigative technology that’s being leveraged to face them head on needs to be organized, too.

Motorola hardware and software enables such technology to expose potential incidents that could result in loss or harm. Ultimately, the message gets to the person that’s responsible for responding, and is free and clear of anything at all resembling a broken telephone message.

Lone worker and person down solution

The most common use case for these types of devices is to conduct two-way radio communication. However, the latest technology offers a highly-sought-after lone-worker solution. Since the devices are now wi-fi and long-range cell network enabled, the second device need not be anywhere in proximity to the first device. A worker in a remote environment can now be checked in on periodically in order to ensure that they are safe by simply pressing a conveniently located button on the device. Even if the person is disabled for some reason as a result of a fall, a health condition, or an attack, the radio will continue to function sending out an alert to the second device, notifying that there is a “person down”. You can connect these devices to any smartphone using the Motorola Wave App for seamless communication between all devices.

“Customer service required to the lock-up cabinet!”

Locked showcases have become ubiquitous in retail stores in an effort by retailers to protect high-risk items from being pilfered by thieves. Critics argue that these showcases might prevent loss, but that they likely prevent sales as well. Frustrated customers often don’t have the patience to search out an employee who has the keys to retrieve the items they want, and will likely go elsewhere to shop for them. A conveniently placed “Help” button near the items has generally been the response to this problem.

However, Motorola has designed its own wi-fi enabled help button.. By pressing the button, a message is activated and sent to a designated radio whose holder (the customer service responder) can then attend to the locked showcase and service the customer promptly. Pilot projects using the device with help buttons have experienced a 30-45 second response rate. No longer is it necessary to engage an overhead PA announcement blasting out a help needed message to the entire world.

Security system circumvented alert

Security systems are designed to reduce exposure to risk. For safety reasons, they are generally able to be breached. An alert of the breach is critical, and alarms are standard. However, when a system is breached, it’s critical that staff respond in the event that a crime can be prevented or important observations and critical evidence concerning the event can be collected.

Using the Motorola Hub, retailers have been designing an alert protocol whereby a designated responder is notified via their device that a breach is in progress. Since the messaging is immediate (simultaneously creating an alert when the local alarm is activated), the responder can attend to making observations of the perpetrators’ actions, even so far as obtaining a license plate number if a get-away car was used. With the Motorola Body Worn camera, some end-users even obtain CCTV footage of the criminal activity, ultimately helping to prosecute offenders.

Motorola’s personal worn devices have found a place in today’s retail environment. With the proliferation of cell phone video usage and social media, the reputations of retailers have been put in question following the posting of short clips to online channels for millions to see. Retailers have been seeking a way to control this narrative, to record an entire event whereby a confrontation and bad act on the part of the retailer is alleged, but not true. These devices have been instrumental in diffusing public relations disasters, and helping retailers provide a meaningful defense against unfounded allegations against them while also providing evidence of a criminal act.

Beyond security solutions

Local delivery drivers have traditionally felt the frustration of a busy retail shop for generations. Standing alone at the receiving door, pushing the bell for 30 minutes, or more, is not an anomaly, but rather a standard within the industry. It’s an occurrence that has left many wondering if there’s a solution to this problem. And now, there is. Some end-users are experimenting with a wi-fi enabled bell at the back door of the store that will immediately notify the responder to open the door for a delivery, even if that person is away from the receiving area.

The human element

Security systems alone can only achieve a certain level of protection. In order to obtain a level of true safety and security, human intervention is required to respond to incidents and events. However, the effectiveness of that person’s involvement is only as good as the speed and accuracy of the information that they receive. With an integrated system, this type of intervention is easily triggered, allowing for a range of different risks to be responded to.


Click here to learn more about these solutions and how they can impact your team. For more information concerning Motorola Devices mentioned in this article, please contact Lenbrook Canada Solutions.