A man walks up to the front door of a jeweller in the centre of Rotterdam and buzzes to enter but it doesn’t budge. He waits. While he lingers by the door, a facial recognition camera quickly scans his face and cross references the image with a watch list of known shoplifters from the local police department. It turns out he has a criminal record for shoplifting and the jeweller doesn’t want him on the premises.
That was one example of a pilot called FotoSwitch in 2011, a program run by the Rotterdam Rihnmond police department, the Netherlands’ Ministry of Security and Justice, and the Dutch Federation of Gold and Silver, aided by Spanish biometrics firm Herta Security.
The pilot gave jewellers an opportunity to quickly screen customers before they entered. The door would also stay locked if a person was wearing sunglasses or something obscuring their face.
It’s the latest way retailers have tried to combat theft. But is it enough to tip the battle in their favour?
Figures from the UK’s Office of National Statistics show the number of shoplifting offences totalled 326,464 between April 2014 and March 2015 in the UK, compared to 321,078 and 300,623 for the previous two years. Shoplifting appears to be growing, and thieves are using new tricks to try and steal goods, like “flash robs”, where groups of thieves co-ordinate via social media.
Steve Rowen of US-based Retail Systems Research (RSR) says that among the retailers it usually surveys, the challenge of preventing stock being pilfered by shoplifters is a constant. This has created a need for more intensive tools not only for surveillance but for managing a store in general, from staffing to presenting products. “CCTV, let’s be honest, you couldn’t use it for more than a basic general description of a person,” says Rowen.