Can Tech Keep Retailers Safe?

One of the key findings of this year's Convenience Store News Technology Study is that, when asked what they hope to accomplish with their technology investments in 2005, 70 percent of retailer respondents reported reducing theft and shrink. By far, that was the No. 1 priority, receiving twice as many responses as the second-highest answer (better management of store labor expense).

Security and loss prevention continue to be among the industry's chief concerns, and the increases in gasoline drive-offs as well as cigarette thefts are among the factors forcing retailers to reexamine the security systems they have in place. As senior editor Tammy Mastroberte learned while writing our cover story for this issue, more and more retailers are focusing on loss prevention and looking to technology for solutions. (See "Getting Smarter With Technology," Page 32.) However, that search for the right technology can lead to a slew of new challenges.

"There are so many new products and upgrades to older products," said Ron Sissel, manager of retail automation at Kwik Trip Inc., headquartered in La Crosse, Wis., and operating 350 stores. "It's hard to keep up with the changes."

Kwik Trip decided to increase its focus on loss prevention a year ago when the company hired a loss prevention manager, and it is now in the process of implementing a program to pull transactional data from the stores to identify problem areas. Furthermore, the company plans to implement a program later this year to help identify exceptions at the register that may need further investigation, such as no-sales, voids and even overrides on age verification.

Security was also a hot topic at this year's NACStech show, where Valero Energy Group's James Maxey, senior store systems development and maintenance manager, moderated a panel on "Biometric Payments: Convenience, Cost Savings and Security." (For more coverage of NACStech, turn to Page 26.)

Gray Taylor, vice president of research for NACS, opened up the session with an introduction to the macro forces spurring biometrics in today's society. Since the impact of Sept. 11, identity has become the cornerstone of security, and ID theft is at the top of mind in the consumer, Taylor said, which makes biometrics a viable solution.

"There is not one credit card, reader, RFID or device that can't be hacked into," Taylor said. "Biometrics promises to be the foolproof methodology. It's very difficult to forge." (Interestingly, as this issue is headed to press, the big story in the news is the massive credit-card information theft that could conceivably compromise up to 40 million accounts of various credit cards.)

Biometrics is just one of the innovative ways that technology is making both retailers and customers feel more secure. From advanced point-of-sale equiment to store surveillance, the convenience industry is embracing technological advances to fight shrink and other crime at store level. Perhaps heightening security may be the push the industry has been waiting for to finally get up to speed with other retail channels in its implementation of high-tech equipment. As the old saying goes, it's better late than never.
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