14 February 2007

Update of retail and shopping mall security systems

An increase in the number of robberies since 1994, coupled with the violent nature of robbery and a "new phenomenon" in trends, which includes shopping mall robberies, is at the heart of the public’s belief that crime is out of control in South Africa.

Yet, despite the findings, which emerged after a recent survey conducted for the National Prosecuting Authority and were reported by The Star (March 07, 2007), the South African retail sector has far less to fear from armed robberies and terrorist attacks than it does from shrinkage and other non-violent problems, says Jack Edery, managing director of Elvey Security Technologies.

“Undoubtedly, the retail sector from a global perspective is faced with a unique set of security challenges in direct proportion to its ongoing growth both in size and complexity,” he says. “In many countries, including Israel, the USA and the United Kingdom, the challenge extends to dealing with the rising threat of terrorist strikes on shopping centres and malls. However, while we are not blasé about violent crime that preys on soft targets, security system installations in South Africa’s retail sector remain focused on providing management solutions, lowering operating costs, monitoring key areas, theft detection and prevention, the reduction of false alarms and curtailing shrinkage.”

Operating cost savings and management benefits

Says Patrick Pillay, Elvey sales manager for intruder detection and alarm monitoring: “We offer a range of solutions to retail companies that provide numerous benefits. Firstly, we are able to standardize systems across stores. This is important when managers or staff move from one store to another since they will be familiar with the system and therefore confident in its use no matter where they are.”

Mr Pillay says further: “We also offer Ethernet TCP/IP connectivity between our alarm intrusion panels and control rooms. This method of communication uses retailers’ existing information technology (IT) backbones, thereby saving them from incurring telephone call costs, which in a large chain, can run to thousands of rands each year.”

An additional advantage of intrusion alarm panels is that they are capable of monitoring critical areas and components such as fridges, cold rooms, store rooms and back doors discreetly.

Elvey also offers a wide range of detectors for indoor and outdoor applications. These are capable of protecting the full range of operations, from small shops to massive warehouses, says Mr Pillay, adding that the company’s radar detector is capable of range-controlled radar detection, which can be used to penetrate stock piles in warehouses and deter prospective thieves who know that they are being watched via the stock pile.

Another of Elvey’s latest retail-friendly products is the Magna PULL, which can be attached to televisions, DVDs and hi-fi system displays. “This detector will create an alarm if the item is moved out of position, thus ensuring added protection to goods for as long as it remains in an armed state.”

Then there is intrusion and CCTV integration, which Mr Pillay refers to as video verification. “A large amount of resources are wasted attending to false alarms,” he says. “Video verification allows control room operators to view video clips taken after the alarm activation. These video clips can either be sent automatically to the control room or they can be accessed by dialing into the system. Verifying an alarm will ensure that resources are used responsibly and to the best possible effect. Video clips can also be emailed to managers and owners provided they have compatible equipment at their end.


According to the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, shrinkage forms a substantial amount of the losses experienced by the country’s fast moving goods industry, and is on the increase. In his February 2007 newsletter, Michael Broughton, director of the CGCSA Crime Prevention Programme, says that while shoplifting does not rank as highly as murder, assault and armed robbery, the reality for a shop owner is that if he does not safeguard himself against it, it could have such an impact on his business that it could mean the difference between survival or closure…

According to Mr Broughton, South Africa’s retail industry loses an estimated R6 million annually to shoplifting incidents. This, he says, is forcing companies to place a renewed emphasis on managing shrinkage to help improve profitability in what he describes as a difficult economic environment.

So serious is the problem that the CGC has implemented a Crime Prevention Programme in which it highlights a number of best practices designed to eliminate the opportunity or reduce the incidence of in-store and related crime. Key focus areas include violent crime such as armed robberies and cash-in-transit heists, truck hijackings, in-store procedures (including access controls for third party service provider staff), delivery fraud, and cheque and credit card fraud.

Starting point

The starting point for any shrinkage control undertaking is the type of system used in store, says Mr Edery. “Shrinkage can be divided into organized retail theft (ORT) and petty shoplifting, both of which pose a perpetual and increasing threat to retail profits. Without investing in quality security and management systems, retailers of every description are placing their bottom lines under threat.”

As a result, the days of a lone guard standing at shop and mall entry points are fast receding, replaced by multi-layered, integrated security systems that blend better trained security personnel with state-of-the-art technology, he says.

In response to the retail sector’s need for comprehensive security and management solutions, Elvey’s latest product offerings include a range of integrated systems that combine intruder detection, closed circuit television (CCTV) and alarm monitoring via GSM and intranet to their own monitoring centres. According to Francois Smuts, Elvey CCTV product manager, the modern-day focus of retail security encompasses three main elements, namely theft reduction, surveillance and back-of-store protection.

Mr Smuts says that an effective security system by today’s standards will allow for both staff and customers to be surveyed. “Searching everyone who leaves a store would be an onerous and client-unfriendly undertaking, which leaves us with the alternative of surveillance by camera.”

The latest in Elvey’s surveillance equipment offerings is a new digital video recording system which provides a far more stable operating environment than that of PC-based DVRs, which have to be rebooted continuously. “What’s also exciting about the new system is that the operator can’t interfere with the equipment. Effectively, it’s an embedded system that performs a dedicated function such as recording,” he says. “Traditionally, surveillance systems required a number of different platforms, whereas now they can operate off just one platform that combines alarm monitoring and surveillance while transmitting signals to a central point.”

New as the technology may be, it already has a strong and growing following. Mr Smuts attributes this in part to the fact that it’s more reliable than radio transmission. “From a remote monitoring perspective, having access to real time video information enables control room operators to be a lot more effective when responding to alarms since they are able to guide response teams to the exact location of the incident. The system also allows for false alarm verification and the identification of people, made easier by improvements to picture quality in the last five years. “

The attributes that make this system so attractive for control centres also appeal to shop owners, since many are not actively involved in the day-to-day running of their stores, he says. “CCTV, in conjunction with the internet, can be used as a management tool. Owners can download live images of what’s happening in their shops at any time from anywhere in the world, which gives them instant insight into what’s happening in-store in their absence.”

The deterrent factor is just as important as a system’s ability to catch thieves, he adds. “An overtly positioned camera in the correct spot can play a major role in terms of solving a shoplifting problem. In many instances, however, the cameras are not well placed. Shoplifters are not stupid. They go into specific shops with specific intentions and are aware of the limitations of CCTV cameras.”

Quality modern-day retail security systems are able to multitask so that their intruder detection value is enhanced by the ability to improve employee productivity, monitor employee performance and record customer misconduct, concludes Mr Smuts. “We see our role as supplying systems that will reduce crime and perform a management function while at the same allow shoppers to feel secure in their surroundings.”

Elvey Marketing