On a bad week Pricewatch Group’s Trinity Place Service Station could lose £200 to £250 on shrinkage

Pricewatch Group will be the first forecourt operator to use a new piece of alarm tag technology in a bid to halve by next year the £250,000 its 11 Sussex sites have been losing annually to shop and fuel theft.

General manager Tom Buckley says he is “determined” to clamp down on the problem, with shrinkage increasing at 25% each year, and will use the alarmed devices initially in a trial at two of the chain’s hardest hit sites: its Trinity Place Service Station in Eastbourne and a non-fuel Morrisons Daily in Horsham.

Alongside the Chirp-edge tagging system, he has also in the past three weeks introduced face recognition product Facewatch at these locations and hopes that the two anti-crime packages will work in tandem to deter both identified and unknown problem customers at Pricewatch Group’s 10 forecourts and one non-fuel convenience store.

“We have heard that the Chirp techology deters not just the obvious shoplifters, such as the street drinkers and drug addicts who steal to order, but also the little old lady making off with a bottle of wine, coming to the counter to pay for everything else and hiding the bottle in her bag,” said Tom.

“Using the tags and Facewatch together means that we can pinpoint shoplifters when they arrive and also leave the store,” he added, with the business planning to install 250 Chirp-edge tags on high value items at its service station by the end of the month.

Items to be tagged will include steaks, gammon, salmon, cheese, coffee, baby milk formula and more expensive bottles of wine. “Anything with a resale value is what we are seeing hit worst, we are not talking sausages and bacon,” said Tom.

Installing the tags at the end of the month is the latest in a raft of anti-crime measures introduced by Pricewatch Group, including CCTV and security guards. It says employing security specialists for a short spell to crack down on a problem of repeat offenders was so effective at one store that it is now transferring them from site to site as problems emerge. 

However, while security guards have a definite deterrent effect, they are also costly, said Tom. Facewatch will have an increasing role to play in the business and the company is about to introduce the system at its newly-opened Wivelsfield site, in an affluent village location. ”However lovely a site might seem there will be an undercurrent of crime. We want to stamp this out straightaway before it takes hold,” he said.

He says Pricewatch Group’s first two sites with Facewatch are already seeing fewer visits from known problem customers. 

Chirp-protect, the firm behind Chirp-edge, launched its system into the convenience sector in January with four types of tags: for bottles, chilled products, to put through handles, and on bulky items like multi-packs. It says it is now targeting forecourts.

It has been seeing positive results from the six independent convenience retailers who currently have Chirp-edge in place, according to sales development manager Michelle Miles. And it is now offering forecourts a 30-day free trial, with payment expected within 45 days of installation if the equipment is retained.

Chirp-edge’s major selling point is that it deters opportunistic thieves who act on impulse and cannot afford to treat themselves on their everyday budget, she added. 

Miles said the tech helps root out people she calls ”stealthy stealers” who pay for certain items, but hide more expensive ones to steal. “They slip a bottle of wine into a ruckstack, buggy or grannie trolley – treating themselves to additional items, and will stop and apologise when the alarm goes off at the exit and say that they didn’t realise that they hadn’t paid,” she said.

“These are people who regularly share stories with shop staff about their grandchildren, or their ailments. They are also parents who buy their kids sweets from a shop every week and make off with £8-worth of coffee,” added Miles. “Facewatch won’t pick them up on its own as they are not regular offenders.”

Multi tag pic

Chirp-protect is now targeting forecourts with its alarm tag security system

If Tom decides to go ahead with the equipment after the 30 day trial, the tagging system for the Trinity forecourt will cost around £2,500 – which includes 150 bottle tags, 50 wrap tags and 50 adhesive surface tags, as well as the checkout desk deactivator and sensor hub above the door.

He expects the equipment will pay for itself very quickly, with the site on a bad week losing £200 to £250. And he believes that while it might create more work for checkout staff to remove and deactivate the codes, the benefits will outweigh this.

“I liked it because it is an out-of-the-box system which does not cost thousands of pounds to have installed,” said Tom.

“If we can deter some people from stealing it will make a nicer environment to work in. 

“One of the biggest reasons our staff leave is that they have to deal with crime. When shopworkers earn £12 to £13 an hour you can’t expect them to without doing everything you can to stop theft in the first place,” said Tom.

“If we did nothing to stop crime that £250,000 that we are losing to theft across our 11 sites would increase to £400,000 then £500,000. It really bothers me that we go to all of this effort to run a successful business and somebody else comes in and can really hit the bottom line.”