The Easter weekend, just a few days away, is a peak time for South African retailers to capitalise on this holiday period, when customers take advantage of time off to shop at their leisure. While consumers are being bombarded with specials from chocolate eggs and hot cross buns to camping gear, this holy holiday will inevitably also mean an increase in crime, be it home, or retail business robberies.

Historically, organised and armed criminals use the Easter long weekend and the upsurge in shoppers to their advantage, as they do in December, over the festive season. Over the past two years there’s been a 16 percent increase in non-residential cash robberies countrywide over Easter, a period which should for this reason, receive the same attention from law enforcement agencies and the same vigilance from retailers, as the Festive period.

Just as retailers understand customer demand over these peak seasons, they also need to take cognisance of criminal trends. Methods have evolved since Easter 1977, when a million rand in cash and jewellery was stolen from Standard Bank in Krugersdorp. With nobody around, the robbers gained entry by burrowing a tunnel under the bank in a crime that remains unsolved. These days cash criminals are more brazen and less patient, particularly in Gauteng, the so-called gangster province, with its rapid population growth of around 3000 migrants per month – coupled with high unemployment.

Robbers who target retail outlets and cash in transit armoured vehicles are heavily armed, use explosives and don’t fear being seen.

Easter is a time for retailers and security agencies to refocus. It’s a period that places retailers, their staff and their customers at risk, and it makes sense to re-introduce simple tricks and tools to reduce the chances of becoming a target.

Richard Phillips, the joint CEO of Cash Connect, leaders in retail cash management, says their goal is to help create a safe and secure retail environment:

Never announce to anyone when you are making a bank run; avoid openly displaying cash, or using obvious methods to transport cash, like driving to the bank in a branded vehicle on pay day; don’t be a creature of habit – change daily deposit times so that you are not caught with cash in hand -  and try to do electronic transfers, instead of paying staff wages in cash.

Continued consumer reliance on cash transactions in store means there’s more for the taking.

There’s R140-billion in circulation in South Africa at any given time and cash robberies remain unacceptably high, with over 50 a day.

On Friday last week (April 12) there was a cash-in-transit heist near Mbombela, while in February, two police officers were killed during an attempted heist near Nongoma, although generally there’s been a drop in CIT heists in the past year.

Almost half of all cash non-residential robberies countrywide, occur in Gauteng, followed by Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. The recently released State of Urban Safety in South Africa Report, showed that aggravated robbery rates in Johannesburg have increased by 26 per cent over the past five years, although last year saw a slight decrease.

Liquor outlets in particular are soft targets. Last week (April 8) 14 men, armed with rifles and crowbars, robbed a supermarket and liquor outlet in Tarlton, west of Johannesburg, killing a security guard; in Port Elizabeth robbers held up a liquor store before hijacking two vehicles and crashing their getaway car and in late March in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, two suspects entered a liquor store posing as customers, then pointed a gun at a cashier and demanded money.

“Many criminals are experts – they study their targets and often obtain inside information from staff. Retailers are advised to be on the look-out for suspicious strangers hanging around and should even consider closing shop, or if that’s not possible, the cash office, for a few minutes before and after cash collections”, says Phillips.

Don’t become a statistic when there’s so much expert advice around and make use of the latest technology which has been proven to deter, deflect and defend criminal activity.

The most important and effective way for retailers to decrease risk is by installing an automated retail cash management and payment solution that is robust and can resist the toughest of attacks. Cash Connect’s cash vaults are built to SABS Category 4 standards. The reputation they have acquired for their ability to withstand attacks – including those carried out with explosives – provides a formidable deterrent.

Like the Festive season, Easter is a time for increased vigilance. 

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