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For retailers eager to help consumers by selling security products, it hardly helps their image if a customer is mugged on the way to the car.

The message that a particular store or chain itself battles crime can be an important point of differentiation, said Robert McCrie, professor of security management at City College of New York, and editor of Security Letter, a twice-monthly newsletter on commercial and retail theft prevention.

And many are willing to shell out the dollars. In 1992, $4.2 billion was spent on commercial and industrial security products, including fire and burglar alarms, surveillance systems, closed circuit TVs, electronic access controls, metal detectors, locks and safes, estimates the Freedonia Group, Cleveland. The figure is expected to hit $6.2 billion by 1997.

Closed circuit TV surveillance systems are being used inside stores and throughout malls, including the parking lots. Hours of operation are being adjusted to accommodate shoppers' changing schedules, and security personnel are roaming the premises using everything from golf carts to cars, bicycles to horses.

For some consumers, that's not enough. An August survey by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C., found safety and security are the top motivating factors for mall managers who have decided to provide valet services. The phone survey of 1,003 adults found 11% of consumers select shopping centers based solely on the crime issue and the presence of security measures, and that nearly a third of women feel threatened in retail stores.

Americans' changing shopping patterns have already affected retail sales. Another America's Research Group survey, conducted in April, found weekday evening shopping is down 9% from 10 years ago, and attributed the shift to fear of crime after dark.

The furniture trade is an example of the trend, said Britt Beemer, president of the researcher. In 1983, roughly 45% of furniture purchases were made on the weekend; today, the figure is closer to 70%.

Mr. Beemer said: "The bright retailers will respond and have a plan in place, and see some long-term benefits."

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