Well it’s that time of year again when people rush out to do their Christmas shopping - so in this post we’re going to explore how access control can affect your in-store shopping experience.
Have you ever had to wait around for a salesperson to unlock a glass display cabinet?
Have you ever wondered how secure those tiny little locks and keys are on the glass display cabinets? And why do so many stores use the glass display cabinets with locks these days?
Have you ever had to chase down a salesperson/shop assistant to ask them for a key to the toilets?
Have you ever had to wait around for ages for a parcel pickup out the back of a store?
Access control can affect shopping in many ways. But is it a problem? I used to work as an electronics salesperson in a local department store, and I can tell you firsthand, that access control in shops is a massive problem.
I was responsible for selling mostly small products such as mobile phones and handheld gaming consoles and these products were typically locked away behind glass display cabinets.
We were told in our training sessions that these locked glass display cabinets ‘protect the expensive products inside from theft’ and ‘if you have a product, it should be on display’. We were also told in training that the glass cabinets provide ‘customers with a hassle-free shopping experience by being able to see what the store has to offer’. But when I was a salesperson, I can tell you that these glass cabinets with metal key access could not be more opposite to being ‘hassle-free’. And really how secure are they?
Firstly, only the on-duty manager had the metal keys to access these cabinets. Secondly, the managers keyring was huge and bulky — imagine a school janitors belt with a keyring the size of your hand with dozens of keys on it — well double that and you are starting to get an idea of how big our store keyring was.
In the first couple of weeks on the job, most of my time was spent not making sales, or learning about new products, instead all I seemed to do was run around the store chasing down my manager for his bulky keyring to unlock the glass display cabinets.
Sure this running around was a little annoying for me, but it was worse for the customers who had to stand around and wait a few minutes for me to get the keys so that they could buy their new iPhone, or whatever product they wanted from the cabinet, and get on with their day. Sometimes the customer did not even bother to wait around for me, and I lost the sale.
“I’m sorry sir, that’s the wrong key”, I often found myself apologizing to the frustrated customer, “I think it’s this one, and I know you’ve already told me three times that you are in a hurry, I’m so sorry sir”. I can tell you that you will not find ‘apologizing for a giant bulky metal keyring’ as a sales closing technique in any sales textbook.
If I was lucky I could find the manager standing nearby to me, grab his keys in a matter of seconds, get the door unlocked and get the product out of the cabinet and escort the customer to the counter for the sale. But sometimes, and this was more common than you’d think, the manager was out the back on his break, or in the bathroom, or he was at the other end of the store sitting down and closing a sale with a customer — and he always hated being interrupted during a close too.
Sometimes it felt like a wild goose chase that could take up to ten minutes, “I just gave the keys to Samantha, so go see her”, the manager would say. And of course, when I got to Samantha or whoever had the keys, they’d tell me they’d just handed the keys to Mark or John or whoever.
When I asked an experienced salesperson if I could ever get my own set of keys, they laughed, “even after working here ten years, I still don’t have my own set of keys”. To borrow an expression from the 90’s sit-com Seinfeld, the store didn’t provide anybody with “key privileges” — other than for the manager.
Apparently, a long time ago an employee could earn a ‘key privilege’ and get their own set of keys after working in the store for a few years. But the privilege kept failing when products disappeared, or stock-takes never added up, or if a set of keys were lost, or if another salesperson found a glass cabinet door unlocked -it was impossible to know which privileged one was responsible. And every time a key was lost, or a theft occurred, the entire store had to be re-keyed. This became a regular and unnecessary expense, and it was a huge nuisance for everyone too.
So eventually the store owners decided that only the store manager would have ‘the privilege’ with one set of keys. If anything went missing or was lost, then the manager would be held fully responsible. Simple right?
But this problem of holding the privileged manager fully responsible with only one set of metal keys only works in theory, and not in practice. You see all it takes nowadays to copy a metal key is a second or two to take a photo with your phone.
With a digital photo, you can then go down to the local hardware store, email the key-cutter the photo of the key(s), pay him a couple of bucks, wait a couple of minutes, and then voila — you have your store metal key(s)!
You could use that metal key to open the display cabinet and steal 50 iPhones at the end of the day without anyone knowing. Or you could sell that metal key for $500 bucks to some guy on the street, who could let himself into the cabinet during shop hours, and steal 50 iPhones.
But there is more to worry about than employees or customers stealing iPhones. On that same keyring set that the privileged manager is solely responsible for, were the keys to the front door, and the keys to the padlock to the roller door in the warehouse out the back for pick-ups.
And also on that same keyring were the keys to the electrical cabinets; the keys to the back and side doors; the keys to the alarm, the keys to the filing cabinets that contained confidential employee records; the keys to the computer server racks; the keys to shipping containers in the back car park for excess storage; the keys to the lunchroom; the keys to the toilets and even the keys to the safe and then there even some more keys that nobody ever figured out what the hell they were for.
Any employee could get copies of all of those keys within a few minutes for a few bucks with only their phone and a bunch of photos emailed to the local hardware store.
With metal keys being used in retail stores, it doesn’t matter what measures or counter measures you take to stop theft, it simply doesn’t work.
All metal keys are good for is creating massive inefficiencies and insecurities. Metal keys can mislay blame, whilst at the same time reducing sales revenue and eroding customer goodwill.
There is only one solution for the metal key problem in retail stores, and that is replacing metal keys with digital keys. With digital keys you can create unique digital keys for thousands of different users to thousands of locks at any one time and get notifications and a record of everytime someone opens that lock at what specific time. You can also cancel the digital keys in a second for anyone in a digital keys app too.
All the salesperson has to do with digital keys is hold their phone up to the lock to unlock it. And a record of this is automatically logged. Its so much more secure, more convenient and more affordable for everyone.
STEVE DUNN (MBA, BA) is CEO and cofounder of Digital Keys, a startup that delivers NB IoT smart access control solutions. Since its founding, Steve has led the startup through a number of different accelerators within Asia Pacific, USA, and Europe. He has also led the startup through several iterations and pivots with a variety of IoT technologies, to finally find product-market fit. Steve is also mentor and coach in university-based accelerators and incubators.