As reported in the 28th Annual Retail Theft Survey, more shoplifters are being apprehended. Not only are more thieves being caught, the dollar amount of recovered merchandise is also higher. (It’s also worthy to note that both the number of shoplifter apprehensions and dollars recovered have increased in nine of the past ten years!)
These thieves are taking a toll on the retail industry. Let us consider a few facts: Throughout my four decades of observing, studying and categorizing shoplifters, I have learned much about these thieves, their methods of operation, and the most effective preventative measures that retailers can utilize. First, let me say that years ago, I became firmly convinced that “good old customer service,” was the first line of defense against these thieves. Now look at what has happened! Walk into practically any store across the country and take a look around; Where have all the employees gone? Sure, occasionally you may find a smiling face greeting you at the front door, but beyond that, where have all the employees gone?
Don’t be shocked when you find that a variety of specialty retailers, in order to help control expenses, are staffing their sales floors with just one employee during “slow periods.” Oh yes, many attempt to rationalize their decision to move away from their “first line of defense’ by proclaiming they now rely heavily on anti-theft technology, such as EAS and CCTV to minimize theft. But is this strategy working? I seriously doubt it! To help support my perception, Wal-Mart recently announced they are bringing back their Door Greeter program in part due to higher losses.
Don’t underestimate these types of thieves. Hardcore, professional, and organized crime groups are well-versed in what retailers are doing. They know that CCTV cameras in inadequately staffed stores are not being monitored by someone in the back room. To the shoplifter, the message is clear… fewer employees moving throughout the floor creates better opportunities to defeat EAS tags. (If you are a user of electronic tags and have minimal coverage on the sales floor, take a look around your store and don’t be surprised to find an increase in the number of defeated EAS tags.)
Unfortunately, the news for the retailer is not good. Unlike those other surveys that report only on perceptions of how severe retailers estimate shoplifting to be, Hayes International’s 28th Annual Retail Survey deals only with actual apprehensions and dollar recoveries. Briefly, the latest stats show that approximately 1.2 million shoplifters were apprehended during this survey period, up 2.0% over the prior year. More than $150 million was recovered from those apprehended shoplifters. Another $142 million was recovered from those who – in one way or another – evaded apprehension. (The amount of merchandise recovery dollars for this category increased a staggering 18.8% over the prior year’s stats.)
Sure, the above numbers are shocking! But keep in mind that while our survey group is comprised of 25 companies representing 21,288 stores and over $700 billion in retail sales, they also have a large number of trained loss prevention professionals who work in unison with strategically placed anti-theft equipment such as CCTV and EAS.
Retailers’ theft problems are not just limited internal issues. In several states, both the police and courts have made it clear that crimes other than shoplifting are to receive priority focus. Therefore, retailers accustomed to such support should prepare for a significant reduction in assistance from these two entities.
Now that I have painted a bleak picture, especially for specialty and smaller retailers, here are five action points I personally would take:
1. Be mindful of those areas where theft opportunities are the greatest. Keep daily/weekly records of theft indicators (defeated EAS tags, open packages, EAS tags/price tickets in fitting rooms, shrink results, and actual/observed shoplifter incidents). Based upon our findings, I would provide sufficient documentation to management to show that an increase in sales floor coverage is justifiable. In addition, I would talk with mall security about theft problems and listen to their recommendations.
2. Ensure that I am well-versed in our Company’s anti-theft policies, procedures, and awareness programs.
3. If additional floor coverage is approved, never lose sight of the fact that another “body” on the floor is not the sole answer to controlling shoplifting. Good and consistent customer service is key.
4. Get all my associates involved! Implement an ongoing awareness program. Also, as part of this strategy, I would clearly define what specific actions both management and staff are to take in event a theft is observed in progress. (Always stressing that safety is paramount.)
5. Ask my associates for their help in identifying theft weaknesses and for their recommendations. Many times, they come up with some great ideas.
Now it’s time for you to add your specific store’s anti-theft strategies to the five I have listed above. Have a great and successful holiday season! $