TSA for Retail Store Theft: From Alarming Exits to Just-Walk-Out Checkouts

retail store theft

A few years ago, while listening to an enlightening podcast featuring Joe Coll, an industry asset protection specialist from Macy’s, I was captivated by the discussion surrounding the evolution of their store exits. Macy’s had transitioned from relying on alarming-only technology to deploying smart exits, which combined Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) for alarming, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for data and video surveillance. This innovative approach allowed the retailer to effectively “screen their customers” in real time as they left the store, a concept that Coll likened to “bringing TSA to the exits of every one of their stores.”

Retailers are in desperate need of a solution

Fast forward to today, and it’s evident that in-store retail shopping is approaching a tipping point. NRF’s National Retail Security Survey found that retailers lost an estimated $94.5 billion nationwide to shrink in 2021 alone, and 70% of retailers believe organized retail crime has become a more prevalent threat over the last five years. A surge in brazen retail store theft events occurring nationwide is challenging the convenience of shopping in physical stores. To combat this, retailers have resorted to locking up items behind glass casings or discontinuing certain products. Many are still struggling to find ways to make stores feel safer – for both employees and shoppers.

This situation reminds me of the way air travel transformed after the events of 9/11. Prior to that tragic day, getting to your gate at the airport was a relatively smooth process. However, post-9/11, security measures at airports underwent a radical overhaul, changing the entire travel experience. Passengers had to arrive much earlier to navigate long security lines and could no longer store liquids in carry-ons. And if they wanted to expedite the process, they would need to obtain additional security clearances like TSA PreCheck.

So, when will the retail industry reach its tipping point and reimagine the checkout process? Currently, the point-of-sale (POS) area is riddled with friction points, still reliant on traditional 1974-era barcode scanning and plagued by long lines.

RELATED READ: The Retail Inventory Dilemma: 7 Reasons Why Real-Time Visibility Is a Necessity

Smart exits, sensors and self-checkout

As I ponder the ways retailers can secure their exits and minimize store theft while keeping all products accessible for sale, a few concepts come to mind:

  1. Entrance/Exit Configuration: Consider making entrances one-way only and configuring exits to prevent customers from leaving the store without paying. For example, Tractor Supply has successfully minimized theft in their stores by strategically placing registers close to the exit.
  2. POS Revolution: Embrace the power of RFID and computer vision for self-checkout. Industry experts like Neil Saunders have praised the convenience of self-checkout systems at retailers like UNIQLO. Imagine how efficiently lines could move at stores like Costco with such technology. The Amazon Go Just Walkout (JWO) technology, which uses a combination of cameras, shelf sensors, sensor fusion, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like computer vision and generative AI, stands as a stellar example of how the POS can be reimagined entirely.
  3. Go Real-Time: Real-time inventory systems can instantly notify replenishment teams when items are being stolen. By reducing visibility gaps and taking swift action, losses can be minimized or prevented altogether. Furthermore, real-time systems can offer valuable intelligence into theft patterns and trends, which can guide future prevention methods to safeguard resources and customers.

In the United States, we’ve adapted and evolved to accommodate added security measures at airports, sporting events, concerts and even highway toll booths. It’s time for the retail community to embark on a similar journey of reimagining the shopping experience. We can create an environment where customers can freely explore stores while maintaining a secure checkout process. As the world changes, so must our approach to retail.

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