Premium department store group Harrods has been trialling facial recognition technology for the last two years, but is yet to find a system that is most useful in helping strengthen the business's security drive.

The retailer's head of investigations, Steve Wilkinson, told delegates at a recent industry conference on business crime that emerging facial recognition technology in the retail space could have a number of loss prevention benefits, but it currently has its limitations.

Commenting at last week's British Retail Consortium's (BRC) Retail Crime & Loss Prevention event in London, the former Metropolitan Police representative of 32 years said that Harrods' in-store CCTV and covert camera presence is "heavy" but the company is always looking at ways of boosting security.

He noted that one of those methods, facial recognition technology, works when there are a limited number of people to monitor but it does not pick up all faces in crowded areas. "It's about finding the right cameras and right location," he explained.

If Harrods is to fully invest in this technology, he said, the business must weigh up whether it wants to use something that has a "60% success rate or wait for the technology to improve".

"We haven't found a system that works, but we're always trialling," Wilkinson added, before acknowledging there is also a data privacy debate to be had regarding these new systems.

The Harrods' security boss also alluded to the loss prevention challenge created by the growth of online retailing, which was a repeated topic of discussion throughout the BRC event at London's America Square Conference Centre. Representatives from the likes of Shop Direct and Aurora Fashions reported similar battles against e-crime, while the event host and Sainsbury's head of corporate security, Philip Hagon, described the scale of cybercrime across the industry as "immense".

Adrian Leppard, commissioner for the City of London Police, who provided the keynote speech for the conference, urged retailers to have a crime prevention strategy and to ensure the policy is known throughout their businesses. He also suggested that retailers should view the security department as a profit loss centre, as opposed to an overhead.

Leppard called on the government to raise awareness of issues such as cybercrime through nationwide campaigns, similar to those that exist for drink-driving.

"Other industries, such as banking and insurance do a lot of the intelligence themselves – I'm not sure where retail is," he commented, before admitting the police will do "everything it can" to battle business crime but will not be able to solve the problem completely.

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British Retail Consortium