Stop, shoplifter! How Auror is fighting petty retail crime

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week he talks to Phil Thomson, co-founder and co-CEO of security company Auror.

Did you know that every day around New Zealand more than $2 million of theft occurs that no one even bothers to report?

Petrol station drive-offs, little thefts at supermarkets, things under $100 generally don’t even get reported to the police – and if they are, the police often can’t do much about them.

Well, a few years ago a lawyer and his co-founders saw this issue and thought there must be a better way. They set up a company that became Auror, helping to link evidence of shoplifting or small-scale crime between the retailer and the police. It’s helped lead to some pretty amazing stats: 55% fewer drive-offs at the petrol station Z, and hundreds of recidivist shoplifters brought to justice. The product works by making it easy to report and connect the dots on organised retail crime, and even helps prevent crimes by integrating with licence plate recognition.

It’s a company that’s attracted top-class investment and top-class customers with most of our major retailers here and more and more in Australia and across the world using the service. To talk the journey, the decision to throw it all in as a successful lawyer and chase criminals, and the fact that so much crime would just go unreported, Auror CEO Phil Thomson joins us.

Either download this episode (right click and save), have a listen below or via Spotify, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

I imagine the people you’re talking to around the world, the big-box chain retailers who have a lot of private space – is it a difficult conversation to start? How do you go and talk to these big companies and how have you gone with expanding it around the world?

We don’t do any of the licence photo recognition technology ourselves but we integrate with it and do that platform offering on top of it. It’s definitely one of those things to get right because it is a massive risk if you get it wrong and you’ve seen that in media over the years: when these companies do get it wrong they are taken to task for it. But for [big companies] it’s exciting because the only thing they have done over the last 30 years to innovate in this area is putting in more security cameras or putting on more security guards. So when we come along and say it’s good to be doing that, but how do you optimise those investments you’re making? But also how do you start stopping crime, because nothing we have done has been working: the numbers just keep going up and up and up.

Looking at companies like Walmart in the US, they lose 3 billion dollars a year to customer theft, companies in Australia are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year – that’s all bottom line profit for them. But that also means someone is paying for it and it’s often us as the consumer, the prices are more expensive. We are paying for those security cameras and those security guards in those stores. When you start reducing crime you are getting those impacts as a consumer and as a community but also those people involved with crime actually at that low level are part of a much bigger organisation, and it goes up in a more and more serious situation. What we seeing is that those people are also doing things like aggravated robberies and kidnappings and sometimes even murder, so how can we use that information at a low level to get outcomes and stop that crime we are seeing now?

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