The New Security Surveillance System—Cause For Concern?
For years, we have been asking SEI to upgrade the antiquated security surveillance system in our stores. This system is so old it uses VHS tapes—which are hard to find these days—and the parts required to fix it when it breaks down are getting scarce. Now the company has announced that it has embarked on a $40 million project to install a state-of-the-art DVR security surveillance system in every store. Sounds good, but there’s a catch.
The new system consists of three cameras with a 360-degree view to monitor the entire store, but not the back room. One camera is positioned at the door and the other two are inside the store. The new system is pretty sophisticated, as it allows franchisees to monitor their own stores remotely. The cameras can even be zoomed in and out, which allows for better surveillance. The program is currently being rolled out at select stores, but eventually every store will get the new security surveillance system installed.
Now for the catch: SEI said it will use the system to remotely view and monitor stores for marketing purposes and to examine customer behavior, like how many times they go to the candy aisle, how many times they pick up an item and don’t buy it, what the customer traffic pattern is, etc. The company also intends to use the system to remedy some fraud issues in the stores—for example, if there is suspicious activity at the store, Asset Protection will inform the franchisee so he could confront the employee or otherwise solve the problem.
Many franchisees are dubious about SEI’s intentions, however, and are worried the company will use the system to spy on them. They remember all too clearly how the cleanliness survey evolved from an asset that helped improve the image of our stores, into a report that details the store’s operation—everything from how much the store is writing off to how many top sellers it has. Now this survey is used as a factor to determine if you qualify for another store.
National Coalition leadership is in talks with SEI to find out exactly what are the parameters of the company’s remote access to our stores, as it remains unclear what they will do with the information they collect. Is SEI also going to watch the cash register and front door to make sure no one is stealing from us? Is the company going to monitor how often we change the coffee, or if our employees are wearing name badges? There are a million things SEI could do with such access to our stores, but we need to know their intentions, and we need to have it defined.
The new DVR security surveillance system has the potential to become a great asset to franchisees and SEI. For the first time we will be able to monitor our own stores remotely. If the company can give us written assurances that the system will not be used to spy on franchisees, then we can welcome the surveillance system upgrade without worry, as the market data that could be collected from its use will be valuable to all parties involved. For now, we will closely monitor what happens at the first stores with the new system. The National Coalition Board will make a determination about what to do next at our meeting in May.