How to Get the Current Time for Anywhere in the World

With video conferencing and remote workers, it’s common to speak to business partners across the globe. I am always looking at my phone and trying to calculate the time difference. Google has a quick and easy solution. Type “time (location name)” in your Google search box and you will get the time in the place. For example, if you want to know the time in Seattle, type “time Seattle Washington” in the search field.

Abstract web connecting people

Using Artificial Intelligence to Catch Shoplifters in the Act

(This article originally appeared in Loss Prevention Magazine)

Artificial intelligence is a trending topic in both the tech and security industries, but how exactly can it help us in the retail loss prevention industry? Like most emerging technology, it has a lot of potential for growth—and a lot of potential for misconceptions.

Artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as AI, refers to the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. In practice, artificial intelligence has a very broad meaning, which allows marketers and salespeople to stretch its definition to suit their needs. For those of us in retail, the first thing that might come to mind when we hear the term AI is its applicability to data analytics. More specifically, we want to know what AI can do for asset protection, from predictive analytics to true prescriptive analytics, as mentioned in an earlier article I wrote in LP Magazine Online in April 2018. In this case, AI promises to take the collected data, analyze it with “machine-learning” algorithms, and help the retailer make the right decisions.

Machine learning is what gives computer systems the ability to progressively improve performance on a specific task, or “learn,” without being explicitly programmed to do so. Like all technology, machine learning has some challenges. One problem in a retail environment is that data is often too vague to translate directly into machine learning. Another problem is that the people who create algorithms often don’t have clean data to work with, which could lead them to create an imperfect or biased algorithm.

Practical Applications

But AI has a lot more potential beyond being used to crunch the numbers. Last month, a Japanese startup called Vaak developed an artificial intelligence software they claim can catch shoplifters in the act by alerting staff members, so they can prevent thieves from even leaving the store. CEO Ryo Tanaka said his team used 100,000 hours of surveillance data to train the system to detect suspicious activity using more than 100 behavioral aspects, including how people walk, hand movements, facial expressions, and even clothing choices.

Vaak claims that shoplifting losses dropped by 77 percent during a test period in local convenience stores, demonstrating how this technology could help reduce global retail costs from shoplifting, which hit $34 billion in 2017 according to the Global Shrink Index. Furthermore, implementing AI-based shoplifting detection technology would not lead to a significant increase in costs because security cameras, which comprise most of the required hardware, are usually already in place at retail stores.

Vaak’s technology demonstrates how artificial intelligence can work with facial recognition software, which scans “faceprints,” a code unique to an individual, just like fingerprints. Unlike fingerprints, faceprints can be scanned from a distance, which opens the possibilities of facial recognition’s applications in fields such as security and law enforcement. According to a December 2018 Forbes article, several local public security bureaus in China have started implementing the use of augmented reality glasses, created by the Xloong company, which are able to cross-reference faces against the national database to spot criminals.

This isn’t the first time AI has been used to fight retail shrinkage. Last summer, another Japanese company, the communications giant NTT East, launched AI Guardsman, a camera that uses similar technology to analyze shoppers’ body language for signs of possible theft. AI Guardsman’s developers said the camera cut shoplifting by 40 percent.

Ethical Considerations

Installing artificial intelligence and facial-recognition software does raise some questions about the ethics of the technology, especially when it comes to customer consent. Customers are typically willing to sacrifice some privacy for convenience when they are aware the technology is being used. Most retail stores already post signs about the presence of security cameras, so resolving this concern could be as simple as adding a notice about facial recognition to these signs.

Despite how far science has come, AI does not truly think like a human being just yet. This could lead to a bias in a system’s algorithm. However, just as artificial intelligence can be inadvertently given a bias, it has the potential to be less biased than a human being. This is simply a case of auditing the algorithms to root out any potential bias before training the artificial-intelligence system.

Artificial intelligence in retail isn’t a hypothetical anymore. Today, AI algorithms run inventory management, delivery optimization, and customer-support chatbots on websites, which we are all too familiar with. When paired with facial recognition software, artificial intelligence can even eliminate the need of salespeople, best shown in Amazon’s self-service brick-and-mortar stores that use image and video sensors to shape the customer experience. With artificial intelligence entering the retail loss prevention sphere, we’re going to see great change in how our departments catch shoplifters and combat retail shrinkage.


Tom’s column regularly appears on every issue of LP Magazine. To subscribe to the printed version of the magazine and enjoy other great content visit losspreventionmedia.com

two business men shaking hands

Take a Swing at Developing Rapport in Interviews

My husband Wayne and I have been sharing a lot of sad, knowing looks lately. You see, our son Greg, just graduated from high school and is off to college in just under two months. What a tired cliché to say that these years pass by quickly, and yet what an accurate one.

We were driving to Greg’s baseball game the other night sharing some quiet moments on the drive. Wayne and I were both at the NRF conference in Anaheim, so we had missed his first few games. I could see that Wayne was filled with excitement and anticipation to get back to what he loves—coaching baseball and, more specifically, coaching his son. We’ve been lucky to have had Wayne coach all four of our kids, the boys a little bit longer. With Greg wrapping up his baseball career, this season is bittersweet.

We pulled up to the game and I looked over at Wayne, it was like looking at the face of pure joy. He literally bounded out of the truck. He greeted all the players and coaches then started batting practice. Here’s where I link this to interviewing. Wayne developed rapport with every single player who came up to take batting practice. If you want good results in any undertaking, whether it’s baseball or interviewing, you must prep the players first—grease the skids, so to speak.

While I sat in my lawn chair, basking in the sun that’s been so rare in Chicago lately, I watched in admiration as Wayne took the time to make every kid feel comfortable. If he didn’t know them, he walked to the batter’s box and shook their hand, then he asked them a few questions about where they went to school or played on other teams. If he did know them (he’s been coaching some of them for years), he’d share a story from a previous season or ask them how things were going in their life. Then he made a little self-deprecating joke or two.

After all this, the magic happened—these kids were at ease. They weren’t worried about anything except hitting. Sorry, they didn’t all become instant division 1 prospects, but I could see in that moment that they felt comfortable and were having fun.

Take a few minutes to develop rapport with your interview subjects. Make it genuine. It doesn’t have to take hours or even more than a couple minutes to make the subject feel comfortable as long as your words, body language, and facial expression show true interest. This may be the hardest part of the interview if you’re an introvert like me, or if you have become emotionally invested in the investigation. Sometimes it may feel difficult to make small talk with someone who’s been stealing. Push through that, set it aside for a few minutes, and develop rapport. It will make your job easier in the long run. Another bonus from developing rapport is that it helps the interviewer settle down and calm nerves.

I’m getting a little lump in my throat as I picture Wayne pitching batting practice to Greg. His son now towers over him and has about 30 pounds on him, but I could tell Greg still has respect and pride for his dad. Joking around with his son was doing something for Wayne too. It was helping him feel at ease and more comfortable hopping back into coaching.

If you’ve never coached youth sports before, it can be a little intimidating, especially as the kids get older and become “smarter.” Parents are watching as well as the other coaches, so the pressure can be a lot. Just like our jobs in LP, people are always watching, so we need to find ways to help us get comfortable and lower the stress level. Developing rapport for a few minutes can solve this.

Why is this part so hard and why do so many interviewers shortchange it? Here are a few theories:

  • Rapport building is not scripted.
  • Not everyone is great at it.
  • We want to hurry up and get to the matter at hand.

Do yourself and your subject a favor and take a play from Wayne’s playbook. Find a little thing to develop rapport around and make it a habit. No skipping this step. You’ll have better results at the end of the interview, guaranteed.

Baseball has countless metaphors for life. It really is a great game with many lessons, not just for the players but for the coaches and fans too. We’re not sure what we’ll do next summer. Maybe there will be a team somewhere that needs a coach. I hope so.

How to Stop Targeted Ads

Google, Facebook and Apple have ad platforms that can send ads based on the information they collect about you, like your name, address, age, gender, internet habits and location. You can opt out of these targeted ads, usually in the platform’s settings. This won’t change the number of ads you see, but they won’t be targeted and in some cases it limits the information the platform can collect.

A Few Tips for First-Timers

Looking back at a few of my articles lately, I’m starting to wonder if the tag line of “Confessions of a Certified Forensic Interviewer” should be changed to “Tales from the Frontline.” Although I’m sure anyone who has been in the loss prevention/asset protection industry for more than a few years will have similar tales to tell. A few things lately have made me reminisce about some of my firsts, and I’ve come up with a list of tips for first-timers. Here you go, enjoy!

Trade Show First-Timers
The first batch of tips concerns trade show first-timers. At the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) conference a few weeks ago, I met some new DLPMs and seeing their fresh-faced optimism took me back to my first trade show. I wish I had given them some advice at the time but didn’t, partly because it didn’t dawn on me in the moment and partly because they were with their boss. Lucky for them, they had a mentor there guiding them, so they were in good hands.

First-timers: try to talk to as many people as you can and get their information so that you can network. Don’t avoid the solution providers; some of the good ones can be your best resource. For those of you without a mentor, it goes without saying that there are a lot of opportunities to embarrass yourself at the networking events, mainly due to mixing alcohol with nerves. While I’ve personally never had a bad experience due to alcohol, I’ve heard lots of horror stories from both men and women about over-imbibing. I’m pretty sure there were times when I said something stupid or didn’t interact as I normally would due to alcohol, and I recommend you learn your limits. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to the session speakers after they give their presentations. They love to hear your feedback and will welcome questions. Make sure you get what you need out of the conference and have a full experience.

Another tip for trade show newbies: you’re going to run into people with egos, but don’t let it bother you. Everyone was new at one time in their career, though some people just seem to forget this. I still remember standing at a reception at my first NRF when my boss walked away for a moment to talk to someone else. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because, in that brief time, a gentleman approached me and proceeded to ask me where I worked and what I did there. He then wanted me to explain to him the formula to calculate shrink. I have a vivid memory of standing there thinking, “What is this guy’s deal?” He was a leader in the industry, and I knew who he was, but I just couldn’t understand why he felt it necessary to embarrass me. After I explained in layman’s terms what caused shrink, he demanded to know the actual formula. When I stammered, he said, “Come talk to me when you have it figured out, honey.” I’ve never forgotten that moment and have come up with a hundred comebacks since then. So, my tip here is don’t worry about it. There are some jerks out there but there are also a lot of great people. Have someone you trust introduce you to the good ones.

First-Time Interviewers
I also have a few tips for first-time interviewers. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the people I’ve trained or mentored in interviewing over the years. Being new at interviewing is nerve wracking. Even after doing over a thousand interviews, I still get nervous. I can remember sweating through a few shirts through the years (side note: it helps to wear a blazer).

My first advice for new interviewers is it’s okay to be nervous. In fact, it’s a good thing because it will keep you on your edge. As soon as you get comfortable interviewing, you are going to get lazy and you are going to miss things. You’ll miss behavior or nuances in their responses, and you won’t get that implication or the extra admissions. Nerves are there for a reason. They keep you on your toes, so just go with it.

Second tip for new interviewers: the person you are interviewing doesn’t know the process (at least I would hope not) for your first few interviews. If you screw up, don’t worry about it. They don’t know that you just forgot to protect the evidence or did your introductory statement completely out of order. Just keep swimming, as Dory would say, and you’ll be fine.

I don’t really remember my first interview because it was all a blur, but I know I didn’t get a confession. I do remember my first phone interview, and even though it was a travesty, I got the admission. My boss and I were traveling together in the middle of nowhere and had to pull over to do an interview. He had already warned me that he was a big fan of phone interviews, and I was expected to do them, a lot! He pretended to take a nap while I proceeded to butcher the entire process. But I muddled through and was able to get a written statement. He knew I knew how to do it, and he was understanding about my nerves. Luckily the person on the phone didn’t know the process and it all ended up fine. So, cut yourself some slack and don’t expect perfection your first time.

Cut Yourself Some Slack
Cutting yourself some slack in all new undertakings is, in my opinion, some solid advice. I’ve always been very hard on myself and have learned over the years it’s okay to be less than perfect. Hopefully as you go about your job and try new things, you’ll remember these tips from someone who has been in your shoes. How does the saying go? “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good,” or “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

One last tip: go out there, try some firsts, and have some fun along the way.