Time to Stop Sweethearting


As we move in February, our thoughts turn towards the 14th and celebrating our sweethearts. But one place where sweethearts aren’t welcome is in the retail store checkout lane. There the practice refers to confederates who allow shoppers to steal merchandise.

As more retailers deploy self-checkout lanes, the temptation to steal goods increases markedly. As someone who tries to use the self-checkout in my local grocery store, I can report that I have done this on occasion but not deliberately: just because the self scanning machines can be so agonizingly frustrating to use.

Sweethearting can be found in any retail establishment, and stopping it isn’t easy. Checkout clerks can skip ringing up a particular item or items, or override the automatic scanned price with something lower, or just scanning one item in a group. All it takes is a fraction of a second and a nod of the head and your items are literally walking out the door, free of charge.

Some analysts state that the practice racks up more than $13 billion of annual losses worldwide, with more than 40% of all checkout clerks doing it at one time or another during their employment. That’s not just a bunch of candy hearts and chocolates! Indeed, the more that stores investigate the practice, the more they find that pretty much all kinds of items are stolen through sweethearting.


In the past there were mostly behavioral mechanisms with very observant loss prevention security personnel to watch for personal interactions or to examine the sales volumes per employee. But these methods are inexact and not very dependable.

So technology has a better mousetrap, or should I say candy trap? A variety of computer vision vendors are involved in selling anti-theft systems, including StopLift.com, 3VR.com and Brickstream. All three sell through the channel. The systems coordinate recorded video images with analysis of the checkout lane actions, and discover when an item hasn’t been scanned properly or when a clerk has overridden the posted price.

As an example, the StopLift ScanItAll product is setup to monitor the video feed from the store security cameras. It is looking at the interaction between shoppers and their intended purchases. It then flags suspicious transactions for the loss prevention department to review. The system also identifies the specific cashier, the date and time of the incident. Users of the system can jump to specific incidents in the video, or can click on a transaction receipt and then call up the revelant video stream around that transaction. And of course, everything is Web-based too so you don’t need anything besides a browser to use it.

In places where these systems have been deployed, retailers report that the losses from sweethearting have been eliminated almost completely. Part of the success is that people know they are being watched, but certainly a bigger part is that you can get actionable data quickly on thefts.

So enjoy your valentine, and think about taking a closer look at these technologies to have in your retail security portfolio.


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