Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 9, 2020

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Contact tracing and COVID-19 director’s briefing

Retail security

How the role of a retail security guard has changed

A retail security guard is effectively a walking, talking CCTV camera, keeping a watchful and vigilant eye on all aspects of the retail store. Assisting and communicating with customers for directions and other minor tasks, as well as protecting stores and assets, have long been staples of the role. But, with the advent of self-checkouts and analytics in surveillance, has the role changed? We outlined some of the challenges they now face, with Region Security Guarding providing additional comment.

With technology evolving as it is, two key factors which have affected the role of retail security guard are store security alarms and the introduction of self-checkout machines.

Region Security Guarding explains: “Store security alarms are relatively self-explanatory. When someone tries to leave the store with an ‘active’ security tag, the alarm will trigger, letting the guard know to investigate the situation. While there are stringent rules in place regarding apprehension of suspects, this gives the guard some leeway, providing satisfactory clearance to search someone.

“However, this can also be a detriment to the guard, due to ‘false positives’ where the alarm may trigger, despite the fact that the person has clearly paid for the item. It can also happen when customers enter a store from another, which failed to remove the electronic tag from the item. In some cases, with a well-thought-out plan, triggering an alarm will allow an innocent person to be searched, whilst the guilty suspect gets away.”

The key point here, is the ‘distraction’ factor for the retail security guard. False positives in alarms are a nuisance and can result in difficult conversations with customers, but the consequences can be more far-reaching if criminals are able to benefit from them.

The introduction of self-checkouts over the past decade or so has also caused challenges for retail guards. Items are easier to conceal at self-checkouts or can be ‘falsely scanned’, while there are often several checkouts to keep an eye on at any one time. This has inevitably created issues for officers, making it more difficult to identify instances of theft.

This means unless the guard is keeping an eye on everyone at every self-checkout whilst also monitoring the shop floor, they are often unable to act on someone they believe might be a criminal.

The effects of COVID-19

RetailSecurity2-Region-20The effects of COVID-19 have inevitably extended to the retail security guarding world. Region Security Guarding adds: “Retail stores are naturally crowded spaces, but as social distancing and occupancy counting have come into play, guards are now required to do more than simply watch out for signs of unscrupulous behaviour.”

The job description now requires guards to monitor how many people are in the store at any one time, check if they are respecting one-way systems and ensure social distancing measures remain firmly in place. The new challenges were particularly evident in the days following the restrictions on retail stores reopening after the UK lockdown. Reports of huge queues outside Primark shops, for example, resulted in security guards needing excellent communication skills to ensure the crowds did not become overwhelming and potentially break social distancing rules.

Guards have also been tasked with ensuring customers are wearing masks or maintaining good hygiene standards for the safety of the general public and employees in the store they are working to protect.

How is technology affecting guarding operations?

Many of the challenges above, however, can be supported by utilising new technology available to the sector. AI in surveillance cameras is now playing an important role in not just improving security, but also in the business operations of a retail store.

Deep learning and video analytics, for instance, can provide security teams with a much better analysis of how customers move around the store, as well as alerting them to any suspicious behaviour. Integrate this with a networked audio security solution, which can provide audible alerts to highlight individuals are being watched, and shoplifters are less likely to carry out their intended purpose.

Innovation in AI has also come a long way in a relatively short space of time. During the pandemic, several vendors have been emphasising how technology can support retail businesses adapt to the ‘new normal’, with options including face mask detection; occupancy monitoring and counting; social distancing measuring; amongst others. All of these can be integrated into an overall surveillance solution, so that retail security guards are more aware of those who may be breaking government guidelines and ensure the safety of other store users.

Ultimately, the role of the retail security guard remains the same – to protect and guard the store, its people and assets. However, technology and new retail techniques have come into play over the last few years that have changed some of the traditional aspects of the job. Communication is more important than ever, while those utilising technology in an efficient manner can reap the rewards quickly.

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