Why supermarket security systems need thermal imaging

Recent NEXO field tests have found that inventory shrinkage has led to retail companies losing more than 1% of their annual turnover. A combination of employee dishonesty, shoplifting, vendor fraud and administrative errors have resulted in store managers losing large amounts of revenue on a daily basis. The lost revenue isn’t just felt by retailers but is passed on to consumers as businesses anticipate shrinkage and incorporate it in their pricing models.

The main cause of shrinkage for supermarkets and grocery stores is shoplifting. Due to the wide range of products on display and a constant flow of people in and out, supermarkets are the perfect targets for thieves. Grocery stores are some of the worst affected by shoplifting. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, thieves get away with more than $35 million worth of goods each day.

Thermal cameras in reducing shrinkage

In the NEXO’s field tests fresh food had the biggest impact on revenue loss and inventory shrinkage. It is impossible to justify the cost associated with tagging fresh foods, as more often than not the equipment needed for this would cost more than the product itself and could impact the overall quality and freshness. The lack of ability to secure such items means that there is a higher importance placed on securing higher ticket goods such as fresh and frozen meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, beverages and spirits.

Due to the winding layout of most supermarkets, it is rarely possible to keep an eye on everything at once. Sometimes a traditional video surveillance system, however advanced, may not be enough even if it is supported by guards and anti-theft systems.

With advances in technology, NEXO’s field tests have found that it is now possible to reduce losses by up to 50% by detecting hidden objects on a person. Thieves have been known to wear loose fitting clothes that would allow them to hide certain objects without detection as it would not look like they are hiding anything. Thermal cameras would allow detection to take place, as heat sensors could pick up fresh or frozen foods against the thieves’ body heat and therefore stop the theft from taking place.

How does it spot shoplifting?

The thermal radiation of an object depends on its temperature – the hotter it is, the more thermal radiation it emits. Humans cannot see this, but we can sense it, for example, when we approach a campfire or enter a sauna. The greater the temperature difference, the higher the contrast in the image, which makes the object more visible. In comparison with normal cameras, thermal cameras enable us to see what the human eye cannot. They provide reliable detection and shape recognition through combining high image contrast with motion detection to identify hidden objects. This results in less false alarms and fewer unnecessary responses and actions by personnel.

By placing thermal cameras above each checkout, Thermal Visual Tracking analytics can detect objects below a certain temperature and automatically trigger alarms. This would enable remote or local operators to instantly recognize suspicious activity and assess the situation before taking appropriate action.

The algorithm will not trigger the alarm if the fresh food is not hidden, for example when it’s held in the customer’s hand or is on the checkout counter.

Shrinkage affects any store that has something to sell. By using new technologies such as thermal cameras to stay ahead of the thieves, it is possible to reduce losses and increase profits – benefitting both companies and consumers.


Read more about reducing shrinkage


Article by Francesca Giussani

Social Media Marketing Specialist Francesca Giussani, who joined thermographic product manufacturer, NEXO, in May 2014, has eight years experience in marketing and communications. She specializies in digital marketing and media, with an emphasis on strategy and marketing content and the intersection between brands and consumers. Thanks to her solid communications skills with smart technology, analytical thinking, creativity, high-energy and enthusiasm, she has a knack for launching successful international campaigns. She also writes for TV and the web and in her free time loves reading and travelling.