Security for grocery stores explained


Grocery stores are a firm feature of our lives and a very important component of the retail sector, which is the life of our economy. They generate billions in revenues and employs millions of people.

Research puts the US grocery market at $645 billion and the convenience store industry at $350 billion, with majority of the revenues coming from the big players but most of the stores owned by individual owners located in smaller cities and towns.

As a grocery store owner you want to give those shopping at your store a friendly and safe environment and keep the hiccups to a minimum. Unfortunately though, every business comes with its own set of risks, and small grocery stores, convenience stores, and mini marts are particularly vulnerable to crime.

In this post we look at the unique challenges facing small- to mid-sized grocery and convenience stores in America and how to deal with them. By the time you are done reading this post, you will have a very good idea about what you should do to make your store more secure for yourself and for your shoppers, clamp down on employee theft, and deal with shoplifters and other types of undesired elements that keep popping up every now and then.

So let’s get the ball rolling then!

Security challenges facing grocery stores


Grocery stores and convenience stores are fast-moving places with those in charge not always free to keep an eye on what each and every person within their premises is up to. A grocery store attracts people depending on its location. If you are situated on a busy street corner or have an automated teller machine nearby, you will see not just more business but also more crime. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of things.

These places get quite challenging to mange in busy hours and during holiday season as they typically employ lesser number of people (given their size). If on top of that you operate a store that is open 24/7, the challenges you face have just shot through the roof. You are now even more vulnerable to robbery, burglary, vandalism, and violence. We don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but it is a fact that hundreds of employees working at retail stores are killed every year in assault, while thousands more are injured in such incidents.

Not all crime facing grocery stores is so extreme though. Most of it still involves pocketing a thing here and a thing there. With the evolution of technology, criminals are coming up with more and more sophisticated ways of stealing. Some shoppers, for example, mess around with scanners at self check-out points, holding their bags in a way that makes the machine register only a fraction of the bag’s weight.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the threats grocery stores face in this country are very real and with (sometimes) deadly consequences. Hence, security of your business is one area where you do not want to compromise at all.

How to devise security management strategy for your store

If you are serious about your business, you need to be very serious about its security, and go about ensuring it in a professional, systematic manner.

Start with assessing the status of crime in your neighborhood. It would seem like stating the obvious if we were to say that the worse hit (in terms of crime) the area you are located in is, the worse it augurs for the security of your store.

Speak with the management of others stores around you to learn about their security challenges and how they are dealing with them. Alternatively, you could hire a consultancy to give you a good estimate about these challenges and how to meet them, or consult the local police on this. Your aim should be to gather as much data as you can regarding the most common types of crime in your neighborhood and all the details associated with it: when does the crime take place the most, the state security measures in place to combat the crime, how is the crime or the security situation affecting others businesses, what about gun violence, vandalism, assault, etc. The data will give you concrete numbers and numerous insights into what you are up against and the exact level of threat you are facing. Accordingly, create a security strategy for your business.

A strategy thus devised would take into account all the (obvious and not-so-obvious) challenges facing your store so that you will be able to come up with a well-rounded plan to tackle them, thus drastically improving the level of safety and security at your store.

Security solutions for grocery stores


In this series of guides we have spoken many times about first determining one’s security needs and then researching different types of security systems that would help them meet those needs. In fact, we just stated that once again because this point is important enough to warrant that repetition. If you are new in business, we suggest you start with research into different types of security systems available in the market – from the most humble of burglar alarms to the most imposing of surveillance systems. You can take a look here for a good idea on the topic.

There is no doubt that a proper video surveillance system is the biggest weapon in a business store’s security arsenal, but how well it serves you will depend entirely on how you use it for your purposes.

Given that employee theft and organized retail crime are among your biggest security threats, you need high-resolution indoor cameras fitted in various places around the store to nab all the illegal and unethical activity going on behind your back. Hidden cameras sound like an awesome idea except that most of us are legally bound to disclose the use of video surveillance. In any case, deterrence is the aim here as far as monitoring employees is concerned. It is legal in many (but not all) states in the US to spy on your employees the hidden way so check out the laws in your state to ensure you don’t accidentally violate your employees’ privacy (and expose yourself to a lawsuit).

Here are a few points to keep in mind when equipping your grocery store with state-of-art surveillance technology:

  • Install wide viewing cameras on the ceiling, corners of the walls, and any place you feel needs to be surveyed. Make sure that your battery of cameras captures the entire field and leaves out nothing. If an employee is so inclined they can figure out corners and places that are out of the reach of the CCTV cameras and use them to carry out theft. So minimize the possibility of such occurrences by not leaving any corner unsupervised.
  • Particularly for stores that remain open till late we recommend a high-quality night vision outdoor camera with a vari-focal lens. Such a camera will capture good quality footage even in low light conditions. (The infrared sensors go off as good light conditions are restored.)
  • Cameras act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and the higher the number of cameras you have installed at your store the bigger effect it will have on the morale of those looking for an opportunity to steal. You can also purchase dummy cameras and install them next to real cameras to give the impression of lots of cameras installed all around your store. No one except hardened criminals will dare to steal in your store.
  • Also recommended is at least one pan-tilt-zoom camera for you to be able to pan a wide area and zoom into people and objects far away. This is especially useful when you are studying the footage for evidence and clues post a theft, burglary, or crime of any kind. 
  • Install one camera on top of the entrance (and exit) door in a way that it is able to fully and clearly capture at least the faces and upper bodies of those entering and leaving your store.
  • Install one camera on top of check-out points and any other sensitive places where there is a high likelihood of crime being committed. In essence, you have to determine all the weak links in your store, or points likely to be exploited, and come up with security solutions to tackle them head-on.
  • Keep the lighting at your store bright and all the signage clearly visible in legible and large letters so as to minimize confusion.
  • As important as capturing the footage is to go through it, something very few business owners bother with. Take some time out of your busy schedule and study the footage on a weekly basis to spot patterns that you should be wary of. (To learn about how to deal with employee theft, read this.)
  • Enlist smartphone support via your security company’s dedicated apps. That way you will be able to remote control your cameras and always be in charge of the security matters at your store regardless of if you are physically present there or not.
  • Security cameras also spot unlikely culprits – like rodents and other disruptive creatures.
  • CCTV footage helps with insurance matters in case of assault, robbery, vandalism, etc. Workplace injuries claim thousands of lives all over the country each year. If you ever face a workplace injury claim from any of your employees, the CCTV footage from your system might be able to help you out in this regard.
  • And last but not the least, invest only in the best quality security system you can find. It need not be expensive and the Internet will help you locate a good deal.

Does that mean you will have to monitor the cameras constantly?


Well, that would be too much for a manager, wouldn’t it?

But it’s not a bad idea if you could spare an employee at least during one half of their shift to do just that. This is recommended especially if there’s a lot of theft going on at your store or in the neighborhood, or even if you are situated in a high-risk neighborhood.

You need to also train your employees well and teach them to go beyond spotting ‘suspicious’ behavior. Not all criminals even act in a suspicious manner. In fact, those involved in organized retail crime are likely to be smooth criminals (no pun intended). Frequent watching of the CCTV footage could be far more helpful in determining the type of behavior one should be wary of.

If they do spot somebody stealing on camera, train your employees to politely approach the person in question as they are leaving your store and ask them if they have forgotten anything. Also train them on how to deal with denial and/or aggressive behavior. Ask your employees to keep the phone numbers of the local cops handy just in case, and encourage them to sound the alarm over threatening behavior. There are many helpful ways to deal with thieves caught red-handed or unreasonable customers causing a ruckus, make sure you and your employees are knowledgeable about all of them. Employee training of this kind should be an ongoing matter.

Conclusion: Operating grocery or convenience stores is challenging and risky business. There is a lot at stake and things can get ugly very fast. A good security system, as we saw in this post, will prove to be immensely helpful in many ways. But you will need to create a proactive, vigilant, and smart work and employee culture to remain on top of all the challenges you face and to keep your store safe and secure year after year. Spend time to study your store’s security requirements, research your options extensively, and put in place a solid strategy that works well. Pay attention to the feedback and keep learning from your mistakes. Securing one’s premises is not rocket science but it does require thoughtfulness and some monetary investment in the beginning. Rest assured though, your investment will start paying for itself in no time at all and you will be glad you took out the time for it.

About Brian Zeng

Brian Zeng is the Marketing adviser in Chief of, I'm Writer, idea guy, difference-maker. I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world.

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