Protecting our customers and colleagues

Comment from Gareth Lewis, Loss prevention officer at the Southern Co-op

The current pandemic and a rise in retail crime are both presenting constant challenges for those of us in the convenience sector. At Southern Co-op, we are regularly adapting to the needs of our customers and colleagues to ensure they are as safe as they can be during the pandemic.

We also need to ensure that our stores function efficiently whilst still delivering high levels of customer service. One way to achieve this is through improved technology which we have been rolling out in a number of ways such as self-service checkouts, Amazon lockers and digital security solutions. Our approach is to find solutions that work for everyone.

In my role as the loss prevention and security manager, I have found that facial recognition is one such technology that has helped reduce theft in the stores where it is deployed.

We have completed a successful trial using Facewatch FR in a select number of stores where there is a higher level of crime.  All of our customers have been made aware with distinctive signage and we have introduced a system which does not store images of our customers unless they have been identified in relation to a crime. This ensures it is GDPR compliant whilst also allowing us to gather evidence against more prolific thieves in our stores before entering in discussions with the local police.

The system alerts our store teams immediately when someone enters their store who has a past record of theft or anti-social behaviour. It gives our teams time to decide on the best action which is incredibly important. Our teams have been trained to use the App and watch list software.

Of course, facial recognition is just one tool in a range of other tactics we are using to deter crime and prevent abuse. Southern Co-op’s Protecting Our People programme looks at crime from every angle – causes, prevention, reporting and justice. This includes £100,000 worth of grants to local organisations working to make our neighbourhoods safer. None of our colleagues should have to face threats of violence and we hope our work will help reduce future crime in our stores.

Co-op Copner Portsmouth

Facewatch has won the total support of Paul Wilks after a successful trial of Facewatch’s facial recognition security camera system at his store at Jubilee Square significantly reduced shoplifting and abusive behaviour.


Just over five years ago, Paul opened his third convenience store in the newly developed Buckingham Park development in the UK. The new store, in the busy square with a school close by, was an immediate local success. However, unlike the two other stores owned by Paul, the level of shoplifting was much higher than he was accustomed to. What was interesting was the type of products that were missing, generally higher value with the top shoplifting choices being steak and wine. With these products being targeted it also meant that the managers of the store were better able to monitor the slippage as high-value items were much easier to track as they are accounted for individually. Paul started to investigate and gained a good working relationship with the local police and it became apparent that this was not impulse theft, it seemed to be more organised.

Around this time a chance encounter began his relationship with Facewatch and the use of the very latest facial recognition security camera technology to solve the problem… Paul explains:


‘We were puzzled by the extent of the shoplifting. It was very targeted theft of high-value items and it seemed that perhaps it was organised by someone stealing to order. Just by luck, my wife was talking to a friend she had met, who turned out to be the sales director of Facewatch, and in a conversation, she mentioned the problem. Within a few weeks we decided to become the first trial site for the new facial recognition system’


In mid-2018 the Facewatch team installed a new facial recognition security camera inside the main entrance to the Jubilee Square store. The system automatically scans the faces of customers entering the store against a list of known people who had been previously been caught on the existing CCTV cameras shoplifting or abusing the staff, however, this was just the start, Paul continues:


‘The technical ability of the Facewatch system is incredible but it became clear very quickly that the power of the system could only be used if the data (The watch list) in the system was good. We found that our existing CCTV cameras were pretty good at capturing shoplifters but the quality of some of the facial images meant that when they were transferred to the Facewatch system it was more difficult to get an immediate match. We discussed this challenge with the Facewatch team and very quickly a very powerful solution was found. The newly installed facial recognition camera was also used to capture CCTV footage of incoming customers and as it was being used in a dual mode for CCTV and facial recognition, we were lawfully allowed to look at these images for 30 days before destroying them. We now have a system that rarely gives us a false match as every image of a thief is almost a perfect headshot’

He continued,

‘Everyday use of the system is now a seamless part of the store manager’s job, the Facewatch smartphone is carried by the manager and when an alert is heard the person is confirmed on the screen and then visually identified. If they are seen stealing or behaving badly, they would be watched by staff. If found to be hiding stolen goods we will call the Police’.

The Buckingham Park store has plenty of signs displayed announcing that the shop is using facial recognition and Paul has confirmed that this has worked as a very effective deterrent and there have not been any customers, over the year’s trial, who have questioned or been concerned about its use.

Paul also mentioned how the system affected his staff,

‘Running a successful convenience store is really like running a happy family, we are a close-knit community both amongst the staff and our regular customers. Everyone is affected by anti-social behaviour in the store and the disruption caused by calling the Police and having to confront a known shoplifter. I am pleased to say that with Facewatch in place where we had a lot of grief a year ago, we have a much more relaxed and positive working environment which is good for the team and the customers. I have to acknowledge that a lot of this is down to introducing Facewatch.’


Paul summed up his feeling about Facewatch’s facial recognition security camera system with the following comment:

‘Since installing Facewatch we have seen a reduction in losses of over 25%. Using Facewatch technology is a significant enhancement from the existing CCTV solution. The Facewatch team have been great to work with and I would highly recommend their technology and the people that work at Facewatch.’


Nick Fisher, CEO of Facewatch

‘It was a perfect start for the trials of Facewatch to find Paul. Paul was keen to try out the system and prepared to work closely with us to ensure any issues were sorted quickly and effectively. His store managers were very knowledgeable, and this helped us greatly’.


Technology overview:

facial recognition security camera system

Facewatch technology

The hardware to run Facewatch is simple to deploy. It includes a standard HD camera and Intel NUC, a mini-PC that is only 4×4 inches in size and consumes very little power. Its performance enables it to play and record video at 4K Ultra HD clarity. If it discovers a match, an alert that includes the image of the individual entering the establishment, along with an accuracy reading, is sent to the retailer’s smartphone, warning it that a known subject of interest on the database has entered the shop.

Data protection and GDPR

The solution meets General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance, protecting businesses from being held liable for violating privacy laws.