Shopping In Safety - Business Media MAGS

Sunday Times Malls SA

Shopping In Safety

Everyone loves a bit of retail therapy. But how safe are South African shoppers? By Busani Moyo.


South Africans love shopping. They already have 2 000 malls to choose from, and more are being built, putting SA in the top 10 for countries with the largest number of shopping centres. However media reports of crime and armed robberies targeted at malls leave a lot of shoppers and tenants wondering how safe they are. Experts agree that a lot is being done regarding security – but there is room for improvement.

Reason for concern

Should South Africans really be worried about safety at malls? Oculus, a company that deals with control room and digital display products, says most robberies happen at the country’s major centres in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Criminals target mostly jewellery and cellphone outlets, and make off with merchandise worth thousands. But some of these losses could be mitigated if malls reassessed some of the design flaws that allow criminals to brazenly walk in, rob and leave with ease, says Andre Mundell, an independent security risk assessment consultant at Alwinco.

It’s important to ensure that the mall has a security plan based on a proper audit involving a review of the people who will be using the space, the nature of businesses in the environment and available equipment.

Mundell says a “risk assessment clearly addresses all these issues and employees will know exactly what they need to do in case of an emergency, who to report any suspicious activities to, or where to anonymously report criminal acts”.

What are consumers concerned about?

CBRE, an international real estate services company operating in the industrial, commercial, retail and investment markets, says South Africans consider four major factors when choosing a mall:

How clean a mall is.

The level of security.

The cost of products.

Whether it has coffee shops and access to free Wi-Fi.

Security was named the second most important concern among shoppers, so it’s vital that those who manage malls take this issue seriously.

But are malls taking this responsibility seriously?

While they may be doing the best they can, Mundell believes they should be doing more. He feels they should be asking questions such as who the criminal is, and what the criminal looks like.

“The criminal comes into your mall as a shopper, a cleaner, a handyman, the constructor, an employee. The shopper becomes the criminal.” He suggests more rigorous vetting for people employed at malls.

A multi-stakeholder initiative

Mundell notes that shopping centre security is a multi-stakeholder initiative that involves basically three major players – the landlord, the managing agent, and tenants. He says in a situation where these three are not collaborating, everybody’s security is jeopardised.

He says the safety of shoppers in malls can only be improved if everyone concerned understands the risks, because prevention is better than cure.

“Risk is where threat and opportunity overlap, thus the risk is present when your security provides an opportunity for a crime to occur.” Hence “it is important to realise that opportunity creates the thief, which is why the opportunity should be eliminated”.

Security needs to be incorporated into the plans by developers as they build malls through deciding on how they can eliminate the presence of opportunity.

This involves looking at areas from where criminals could access the mall, surveillance cameras, properly monitored control rooms, and parking lot security.

The managing agent must ensure that the mall’s security company is reputable, so that shoppers and tenants are safe, while tenants must secure shoppers and employees inside the shop. “The fact is that mall managers, landlords and tenants are equally responsible for the security of their shoppers,” says Mundell.

Old-fashioned wisdom still works

Many people become complacent because of the modern sophisticated measures in place at malls.

However in his article Top safety tips to prevent shoplifting, published on the BizCommunity website, MiWay head of business insurance Morné Stoltz notes that even though malls are employing safety measures such as cameras and hi-tech alarm systems, crime still happens.

This is because “well-versed thieves are easily able to outwit these technological barriers”.

When it comes to spotting potential criminals, shoppers should look out for people who look nervous, he says, as this can indicate that they don’t want to be noticed.

Also, watch out for customers picking up and putting back the same item repeatedly, he says. People wearing large items of clothing or carrying big bags should also be watched closely.

Stoltz further advises shop owners to plan their shop layout well, as criminals have a way of identifying the parts of a shop that are often unmanned. To ensure that thieves don’t get too used to a shop’s layout, managers should change it from time to time. This makes it harder for criminals as they have to keep rethinking their strategy.

Eliminating the opportunity

Cash is one of the main attractions for criminals to malls. Mall of Africa has introduced an innovation referred to as the Shopping Mall Cash Recycling (SMCR) system, managed by SBV, a South African security services provider specialising in moving cash from one point to another.

This system ensures that the cash generated in the mall never needs to be transported using cash-in-transit services, as it gets recycled invisibly using a complex system that ensures all cash keeps flowing inside the centre itself.

Consumers can play a part

The role played by the shopper in ensuring their own security while in the mall can never be underestimated. Mundell advises against complacency in any situation, including in malls, noting that shoppers “are of the belief that it is the mall’s responsibility to keep them safe, and most think they are safe if they see cameras in the malls. A camera is simply part of the tools that are used to capture evidence; it will never stop a criminal”.

Mundell identifies ways that shoppers create opportunities for criminals. “Cars are left open, handbags are left on the chair when people eat, and people focus on their phones and are completely oblivious to their surroundings. The last thing on their mind is security.”

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