By Patrick Sobalvarro, President and CEO of IntelliVid


The holiday season is not just retailers’ busiest time for sales. It is also the busiest time for theft and safety incidents. With as many as 600,000 temporary workers brought on for the holidays by the nation’s retailers, cases of employee theft are expected to skyrocket over the holidays. At the same time, with thousands of shoppers crowding stores, the risks of safety incidents – lost children, slip and falls, etc. – are significantly elevated. These two trends have serious bottom-line implications for retailers: uncontrolled theft can reduce profits by 10-20%, while a single lost child incident can lead to a complete store shut-down in the middle of the holiday rush.


As much as 40-80% of retailers merchandise shrinkage is due to employee theft, according to a recent University of Florida study, translating into almost $20 billion in annual losses for the nation’s retailers. Some 60-70% of this loss takes place during the holiday season when a flood of temporary workers is manning the cash registers. Common forms of employee theft include “sweethearting” – passing off merchandise to friends or family, phony sales, refund and cancellation transactions, outright merchandise theft and cash theft. Loss prevention teams at retailers struggle to keep up with the sheer volume of transactions processed by these temporary employees and the challenge of distinguishing theft – a store associate handing off merchandise to a friend – from normal sales.


Increasingly, retailers are adding video intelligence to their existing in-store surveillance systems to help fight back against the growing volume of employee theft. Having a computer instantly filter the video from thousands of potentially fraudulent POS transactions allows loss prevention teams to identify dishonest employees in minutes, versus days, weeks or never with a typical DVR system.


Using sophisticated video analytics, video intelligence software automatically finds suspicious transactions, like an associate voiding a cash sale with no customer on the other side of the counter, and alerts retailers’ loss prevention teams. With the help of this kind of technology, retail loss prevention teams can increase the number of dishonest employees caught during the holiday season by as much as 200%.


Among the safety risks faced by retailers, few are more troubling than the potential for a lost child incident in the middle of the busy holiday shopping season. Following the Code Adam safety program originally established by Wal-Mart in 1994, retailers are obliged to lock down their store if a lost child has not been located ten minutes after being reported missing. Code Adam is an important measure for safeguarding missing children, and, at the same time, it creates a significant risk of lost sales for retailers when a child goes missing during the middle of the busy holiday shopping season. To both protect the children and avoid a store-lock down, retailers need tools for reuniting parents and lost children in minutes.


Trying to manually track a parent’s recent movements using a standard surveillance DVR can take hours – too long for both retailer and frenetic parent.


Using video intelligence software and Computer-Aided-Tracking analytics, retailers can resolve lost child incidents in minutes instead of hours. Last year on Black Friday, one department store reunited a mother and lost child in under three minutes by using video intelligence software. Employees tracked the mother back through the store to when she and her child were separated and then tracked the child forward in time to find the child hiding nearby.


Patrick Sobalvarro is President and CEO of IntelliVid Corporation ( and an expert on retail loss prevention.