'It's almost like a warzone': Retailers hope AI technology will help 'relentless' shoplifting

Retail workers tell ITV News that shoplifting has made work 'like a warzone' as it's hoped Artificial Intelligence can help crackdown on incidents - ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is being deployed in shops to help workers tackle "relentless" shoplifting.

"We are on the front line," one store manager in Southampton told ITV News.

"This is almost like a warzone for us. I'd love to say it'll suddenly get better over night, but the truth of the matter is this is what we'll be dealing with for the longer term future."

ITV News has filmed the new system in action at a Londis store in Weymouth, Dorset, where staff there said that facial recognition technology has drastically reduced the problem.

"We've got the accuracy of understanding who's coming in and being able to challenge known offenders, but also we're reducing the staff having to interact with them to any sort of degree, which is where we normally find the conflict," said store manager Dave Hiscut.

I tried out the technology - posing as a repeat offender - and the cameras identified me within just six seconds.

That triggered a second security system, which prompted an alert.

Shops using the technology, known as Face Watch, load images of people suspected of theft, calling them "persons of interest". The data can then be shared between different stores.

For a positive identification, the system requires specialist staff to confirm the match, meaning there is always human confirmation in the process.

But there has been some opposition to the use of the AI technology. An international alliance of campaigners wants to halt the rollout in all UK retail spaces.

More than 180 privacy rights groups worldwide have formed the alliance. Madeleine Stone from Big Brother Watch told ITV News: "What we need to see is a well-resourced police force that can react to criminal acts.

"The problem is, we're creating a privatised policing system based on the back of a massive biometric surveillance network. This is not the way forward, it's not going to keep us safe.

"It actually poses a risk to our privacy and our data protection rights."

Retailers are growing desperate in the fight to protect their stock - and their staff.

An exclusive survey of retailers for ITV News shows workers have endured abuse from shoplifters in 71% of stores.

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