Video of my Sweetheart
By David Dorf on May 22, 2009
About a year ago I visited a retailer in Utah that had a sophisticated video surveillance system in all their stores. At HQ they could watch any camera in any store in real-time (on the big screen in the conference room, no less). But who has time to review that much video?
They showed a video compilation detailing the theft of a high-value item. This item was normally kept on a shelf behind the counter, so the LP person started there. Pulling up yesterday's video, he found the product and circled it on a stopped frame of the video (John Madden style), then told the computer to forward to the next frame where the product moved. Using this technique, we watched the item being picked up and showed to customers a few times before the manager misplaced it on a box in the back room. Then he moved it to another location, then finally into the trunk of his car. (Yes, the video surveillance went into the parking lot.) Yet another inside job.
Companies like Stoplift are using sophisticated video recognition technology developed for national security to solve a big drain on the retail industry -- employee theft. One of the more popular ways in which employees steal is through "sweethearting." Remember when you were in high school and your boyfriend slipped an extra large-fry into your order for free? And you said to your friends, "what a sweetheart!" Well, there you go.
Sweethearting costs the industry about $13 billion a year. Its estimated that 30% of retail employees steal at least once, and only about 25% are ever caught.
Just as video surveillance software can be programmed to recognize faces, it can also be programmed to detect motions like sliding a package of steaks around the scanner. When teamed with the electronic receipt, its easy to see the steaks move near the scanner, but nothing shows up on the receipt. Bingo -- another case of sweethearting, all caught on video.