The run up to Christmas is usually far from a holiday for retailers. These are the busiest few weeks of the year for sales but the festive season also means an increase in some negative aspects of the business such as crime.

Peter Camilletti, security advisor at Total, says retailers need to keep their eye on the ball during the festive season if they want to avoid the ’Nightmare Before Christmas’. He explains: "In the run up to Christmas, crimes such as robbery increase significantly, therefore all petrol retailers should consider reviewing and tightening up their security measures."

According to Camilletti, Total has been working with its training branch on an e-learning package that focuses on the main Christmas security points. The package comes with an online test to ensure staff understand the way they need to behave in the face of a robbery. Camilletti adds that robberies at Total sites are down 40% this year from 2008.

He says: "I believe Total’s success can be put down to our continual focus on robbery reduction as a priority. The key is not to take your eye off the problem. By reinforcing training, it helps demonstrate to staff the important role that they play in the prevention of robberies."

In addition, the recession also needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to security planning. BP says the economic downturn has resulted in an increase in bogus callers and visitors.

A spokesman for the oil company explains: "Our store staff are well trained to make sure everybody has ID (even police) and always check if they’re in doubt. This is something that is regularly reiterated through staff communications. We also have to deal with increasing numbers of drive-offs and shoplifting. Staff must remain vigilant while CCTV around the store and forecourt helps."

Security seems to be on the minds of forecourt staff. As part of recent research at Harris International Marketing (Him), store staff were asked what additional training they would like to receive if it was available. According to the results, the most popular answer was security training dealing with violence (44%).

Daniel Wan, UK marketing leader of Honeywell Systems Group, says: "Whereas security might have been seen in the past as a cost to a business, or a way just to make your insurance company happy, it’s becoming easier to justify security in terms of return."

Wan says Honeywell customers are looking for a better basic level of image quality from CCTV and more coverage on sites. There is also growing interest in technologies such as analytics software and ANPR (Automated Number Plate Recognition).

He says: "Retailers need to be more pro-active in terms of security, and not reactive. With analytics, it’s a more intelligent solution to just CCTV monitoring and recording. The software can be set to alert staff to any suspicious activity, such as if a person reaches four or five times for items off the same shelf or for a high-value item."

Wan adds that in the past this used to be a separate piece of equipment but now the analytical technology can be integrated making it cheaper, easier to use, and requiring less staff training.

Wan’s main piece of advice for retailers about CCTV is simple: make sure your cameras are visible. He explains: "If you have cameras in multi locations then potential thieves are less likely to attack."

When it comes to ANPR technology, savings depend on the individual site but Wan cites one retailer in London who used to have losses of about £1,000 a month in drive-offs. Since using ANPR that has dropped to £300.

Another company which has been developing its security offering is Drivestop. Started by former independent retailer Jaginder Mudhar (known as Jag), the system includes floor plates or ’stingers’, which are placed at site exits and can be activated to slowly deflate tyres on an offending vehicle. There have been some recent changes at Drivestop there was a 51% buy-out by a company called Criss-Cross earlier this year, and while Jag is still involved it is in a more minor role. New Drivestop general manager, Magnus McFarlane, explains: "We’ve given the equipment an overhaul to improve every aspect of it and we’ve reduced the price by about a third. We’re now on a big sales push. We’ve had a lot of interest, including from some of the larger independents."

McFarlane says Drivestop is currently installed at 26 UK forecourts. And where Drivestop has been installed, retailers have seen a fall in other crimes such as shoplifing.

Meanwhile, legislation is being strengthened to protect retailers from getting stung by drive-offs. BOSS (the British Oil Security Syndicate), which runs its Forecourt Watch schemes around the country, says there was a major step forward earlier this year. BOSS worked with the Home Office to secure an amendment to its National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS), which means a drive-off reported by a site must now be classified as a crime rather than a civil debt. Kevin Eastwood, BOSS executive director, says: "One of the biggest things we’ve achieved this year is to secure this amendment it’s a huge step forward. This change and the new guidelines add strength to the message that deliberately driving off without paying for fuel is a criminal offence." In addition, Eastwood says BOSS’s latest figures reveal forecourt crime fell by 8% in 2008 compared to the previous year. In its Annual Review 2008-2009, BOSS states: "Despite 2008’s backdrop of fuel prices that were, on average, 16% higher than the previous year, the cost of crime on Britain’s petrol forecourts fell by 8% year-on-year. Total losses stood at £29.9m in 2008, down from £32.5m in 2007. This reduction marks a step in the right direction, but forecourt crime levels remain unacceptably high."

BOSS has also been working with police and industry partners on a ’No Means of Payment’ pilot in Nottinghamshire. This records the details of people who claim to have no means of payment for fuel and it then asks them to pay within a certain time period. Eastwood says it has been a success, with one site in the area seeing 96% of customers return to pay within days.

According to BP, other areas of concern are cash collections and ATM replenishments. The BP spokesman says: "The potential for till snatches and robberies is heightened at this time of year. In the main these will be opportunist in nature."

One company involved in handling cash at forecourts is Loomis. According to the company’s risk director, Tony Benson, there are some recent developments relevant to the independent sector, including the Loomis SafePoint deposit unit. He says: "The number of attacks on staff in the workplace linked directly to the possession or transportation of company cash is at an alarming level. Loomis SafePoint offers an affordable, peace-of-mind solution. From the moment you deposit your money in the SafePoint unit Loomis takes full responsibility and insures your money. We offer you a safe and trouble free end to end service." For a copy of the BOSS Annual Review 2008-2009 email Kevin Eastwood on