OPERATIONS

Convenience store operator goes digital with surveillance

BY Marianne Wilson

Sprint Food Stores has taken its anti-theft efforts to the next level with an advanced digital security-camera and recorder system. The cameras provide easily retrievable and emailable surveillance video evidence (with clearer images) that help deter theft and fraud and enable the retailer to efficiently monitor store conditions from home, headquarters, or anywhere with an Internet connection.

“With an advanced surveillance camera system, a convenience store chain could achieve ROI within a year through better prevention of theft, fraud, and unjustified claims as well as improved operational oversight,” said Todd Harrison, IT director, Sprint Food Stores, which operates 20 convenience stores in Georgia and South Carolina.  Harrison also oversees loss prevention camera surveillance for the company.

Previously, Sprint Food Stores used lower resolution cameras that required onsite DVD burning as a means of storage.  According to Harrison, limitations in surveillance video quality and connectivity were the main reasons that the convenience store chain sought an alternative.

As a solution, Harrison turned to an advanced surveillance camera system provided by ERC, a  Kennesaw, Georgia-based supplier and integrator of surveillance and POS systems.  The company has provided over 10,000 stores and restaurants with surveillance or POS systems including Arby’s, Popeyes, KFC and Burger King.

The integrator supplied Sprint Food Stores with a complete surveillance video system, including various high-resolution digital cameras, network video recorders, and related equipment.  This provides comprehensive video coverage inside and outside of stores, the corporate office, and remote offices, even in low-light/varying light conditions, and enables adjusting the angle or focus to capture the visual evidence required.

“ERC worked with us on exact camera placement and suggested slight adjustments to improve visibility and get the maximum coverage with the minimum number of cameras,” said Harrison.

Among the benefits of the new surveillance system is that it eliminated “blind spots” within stores, such as inside a walk-in beer cooler, which made it easy to prevent theft and catch thieves, according to Harrison.

“We put a camera inside the walk-in beer cooler and at other blind spots so we can monitor them at the front counter,” he explained.  “This prevents theft so we don’t have to prosecute, and provides video evidence if we do.”

The equipment installed in Sprint stores includes a 3-megapixel fisheye network camera that provides a full, 360-degree view over a web browser. It provides three, simultaneous pan, tilt and zoom video streams that can be viewed live or recorded.

“The great part about the 360-degree view camera is being able to view the whole store,” said Harrison.  “You can zoom in for a close up of what you want to focus on, and quickly see which store camera has the best view.”

The surveillance system can also help to identify and deter potential cash register transaction theft. It integrates with the store POS system and provides smart ER exception reports, a type of advanced filtering software included with the surveillance system.  It allows for quick analysis of thousands of register transactions to identify suspicious activity and pull up video of it for review.

“The district manager may get alerts from the exception system if there are an extreme number of voids or no sales, so may bring up ten seconds of video after each to review,” says Harrison.

Deterring and disproving fraudulent claims is another benefit of implementing easily accessible, high quality surveillance video. The information can be used to deter unwarranted claims for slip and fall or workers compensation, for example.

“When a store was involved with a slip and fall claim, we were able to show on video that other customers took the same path as the accuser without incident, and that less harm was involved than stated,” says Harrison. “We retrieved the video, sent it to her lawyer, and her lawyer dropped the case.”

Surveillance video can also be used as evidence to collect costly damage to equipment or store property. This helped when a truck driver ran into a 3-foot high, LED diesel fuel sign, destroying it, at a Sprint location before driving off.

“When we emailed the trucking company high-quality surveillance video of the incident with their truck/trailer number and company name clearly readable, we were promptly compensated,” said Harrison.  “That alone paid for the store’s surveillance system.”

On another occasion, Sprint Food Stores had a storage building roof torn off by a truck just before dawn without the driver stopping to talk to anyone, according to Harrison.

“Because our infrared cameras provided clear identifying information on the truck, we were able to quickly file a claim with the truck company and recover 100% of damages,” says Harrison.  “There was no delay in receiving payment because we had proof.”

Compared with the chain’s previous approach, implementation of the advanced system has significantly improved management.

“Video can be reviewed and archived remotely as needed, which eliminates the need to spend hours every week traveling to burn DVDs for video storage,” says Harrison.

The surveillance system also has an optional video analytics software module that could help the retailer more effectively merchandise retail items, according to Harrison, who said hat the chain is not currently using this option, but may do so in the future.

“The video analytics module would basically pinpoint where in the store people are traveling, where they stop, and where they spend time, over time,” said Harrison.

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