Insider Threat: Economic hardship requires fresh thinking to manage and mitigate internal risk

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This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: Insider Threat: Economic hardship requires fresh thinking to manage and mitigate internal risk.

Graham Swallow, Axis Communications, considers the escalation of instances of theft from inside retail businesses, and what can be done to support and educate staff while protecting assets.

As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, many will already be feeling the pinch, and with a possible recession ahead, there may be worse to come. For some this might mean being more careful about the weekly shop and exercising restraint over energy consumption, but for others, it’s a step too far. Fear of running out of money - and being unable to buy food or pay the rent - is enough to make even the most honest person become tempted by an easy opportunity to make ends meet. While loss through crime has always been a sad but inevitable reality of retail, there is a proven correlation between economic hardship and retail crime.

But putting aside theft from external sources, much can be done to head off the threat from within. In terms of the volume of incidents, internal theft accounts for over 22% of UK retail shrinkage according to the Centre for Retail Research[1]. Times of economic hardship will drive out-of-character behaviours and retailers can expect an increase in opportunist theft by usually reliable employees. In fact, just one incident can result in thousands of pounds worth of loss when a desperate employee is given adequate access and opportunity.

Store managers should be prudent and seek ways to mitigate this problem before it escalates. Deterring temptation by making employees reflect on the consequences of their actions will reduce opportunities and highlight the penalties of such actions, also heading off the challenge for the employer of having to find replacement staff. This is where a package of measures including culture, training, signage and technology can help.

Develop a culture of trust

As part of a duty of care to staff, retail businesses must acknowledge that valuable and vulnerable commodities and stock present temptation. There is an opportunity here to openly discuss the current climate, to acknowledge that times are challenging and to look for simple ways to support a valued workforce. Having an open-door policy to listen to concerns during difficult times can help staff feel valued while creating an environment that is based on trust. Retail managers should also consider engaging with union representatives to agree levels of deterrent aimed at protecting against poor decision making.

Staff training will increase awareness around appropriate behaviours and help discourage responses such as, “I didn’t know”; “I was only borrowing it”; and “I was going to pay it back”. In addition, training gives a morale boost to employees, and being part of a nurturing, supportive environment will result in staff being less likely to risk their position of employment through an opportunist act of crime, and more likely to adhere to agreed procedures and policies relating to appropriate conduct. Better management of intruder alarm pin codes, surveillance camera passwords and call-out procedures will reduce temptation and the likelihood of confidential information about business security falling into the wrong hands, preventing an ‘inside job’.

Signage to remind and reinforce

Clear and well-positioned signage, backed up by pre-recorded audio messaging in key areas, can also serve as a gentle reminder of protocols, which could be repeated subtly in payslips. From a crime prevention perspective, signage that reminds operatives that stock levels are regularly checked, that highlights the importance of ensuring that cash and valuables are not left unmanned, or that security cameras are in operation, will all serve to reinforce the messages and values that have been agreed upon as part of a culture of trust. At a time when retail businesses often fall victim to criminal gangs, aided by employees, messaging is a crucial reminder of training and of doing the right thing.

Embed appropriate behaviours with technology

Innovations in physical security technology have led not only to sharper, better image quality but also to insights through on-board analytics based on real-time data. Output feeds from the shop floor or stock rooms can also be displayed on screens in staff rooms and meeting areas. This can aid management in driving operational efficiency while also helping staff get accustomed to the use of cameras to secure and protect the working environment.

IP audio speakers, when used in combination with cameras and analytics, can trigger audio announcements based on pre-determined behaviours, or be utilised for live announcements. A message that plays upon entrance to a stock room, informing an individual that the area is monitored for security and safety, would make anyone think twice before acting. Elsewhere, cameras trained to detect and report on patterns of unusual behaviour that might indicate a build-up towards a criminal act can send an alert in real-time to security personnel, helping them to address the matter instantly and deter such behaviours.

Working with staff to promote trust, deter crime and provide greater clarity around roles and responsibilities will result in a shift from a reactive culture based on catching and convicting, to a more proactive culture based on educating and supporting staff, resulting in greater job satisfaction even when times are hard. The application of signage to convey clear policy and messaging, combined with training and cutting-edge technology creates a full package of measures that will ultimately lead to a smarter, safer and more profitable retail industry.


Graham Swallow MSyI CMI
Graham leads the Axis retail segment for Northern Europe

Learn about Axis’ solutions for retail:

About Axis Communications

Axis enables a smarter and safer world by creating network solutions that provide insights for improving security and new ways of doing business. As the industry leader in network video, Axis offers products and services for video surveillance and analytics, access control, and audio systems. Axis has more than 3,000 dedicated employees in over 50 countries and collaborates with partners worldwide to deliver customer solutions. Founded in 1984, Axis is a Sweden-based company listed on the NASDAQ Stockholm under the ticker AXIS. For more information about Axis, please visit our website

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