Is Your Loss Prevention Programme on Point? 2023 Strategies for Retailers.
Loss prevention was always important, but over these past few years, it’s become an almost existential imperative for retailers that has become a board-room issue. Theft, in-store violence, and organiesd retail crime (ORC) are on the rise, creating a perfect storm of problems for retailers to grapple with.
In 2021, stolen merchandise cost U.S. retailers a staggering $94 billion, the last time data was made available by the National Retail Federation — that’s a $4 billion increase from 2020. Elsewhere, store owners aren’t faring much better, with retailers from Europe reporting much of the same.
Keeping your loss prevention programme on point is key to succeeding through this unfavourable climate. How you reduce and minimise shrink will depend on many factors including how well you implement and execute on the latest tech and tactics, how you deter criminal activity, and how you anticipate where the next strike may be. In these unprecedented times, it will be imperative to activate a variety of tactics to safeguard your merchandise while keeping sales associates and shoppers safe.
The Current State of Loss Prevention
First there was the pandemic. As more and more people struggled to find work due to shutdowns and other industry-related disruptions, retailers noticed a strong uptick in theft.
While normalcy returned, however, shrink rates remained perplexingly high. In the time since, high inflation has partially carried the torch, contributing to elevated theft levels for retailers across the globe. Widespread implementation of must-have, in-store amenities like self-checkout can also be sieves at many retail locations, further increasing the rate of shrink.
"Retailers in every market are aware they need to implement some form of self-checkout, but that implementation is often done in haste," said Dustin Ares, General Manager, Video Analytics, AI, & Incubation at Sensormatic Solutions. "Without careful planning, without operations that truly address some of the complications around self-checkout, it's possible to create an element in the store that actually encourages dishonest behaviour."
At the same time that all this is happening, shoplifting laws in many countries are becoming more lenient. This trend was already in motion before the events of the past few years, but its effects are being felt more acutely in today’s high-theft environment.
"Opportunists and ORC groups aren't being deterred because they know there are no repercussions," said Mathew Meade, Account Executive at Sensormatic Solutions. "They know they won’t be prosecuted, and theft is just too lucrative.
Of course, all this comes at a time when budgets are being squeezed and stores and sales associates are being asked to do more with less.
Today’s Must-Have Loss Prevention Tech and Tactics
With so many challenges to face, retailers must ensure their loss prevention programmes are working for them. Most major retailers have long since invested in an Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) system, but many have not continued to ensure the system is working effectively. These systems provide an invaluable visual deterrent and create added friction and risk for the would-be thief and are especially valuable when integrated with a shrink analytics platform. To further optimise an EAS system consider upgrading the technology to include metal foil and jammer detection. EAS systems can be outfitted to recognise and alert when individuals are entering the store with criminal tools such as a metal foil lined booster bag or jammer device giving you a heads-up for possible trouble.
Harden the Target
Where can retailers look to protect employees and reduce shrink even further? It all starts with reasserting control. Shoplifters have had retailers on the back foot for a few years now, which can create a self-fulfilling environment that further encourages opportunists. To demonstrate how seriously your stores take theft, add more impossible-to-miss visual signals like public view monitors placed strategically throughout the store in high-risk areas such as aisles, self-checkout stations, and exits. Another strategy, would be what Meade refers to as "hardening the target":
"Hardening the target simply means putting more obstacles between merchandise and potential thieves," he said." Retailers have defaulted to doing this the old-fashioned way with locked cases, but that crushes their sales and impacts the customer experience. However, there's a smarter, more customer- and profit-friendly way to do it, using things like hard tags, safers and wraps, and labels along with a fully connected EAS detection system. These are still a deterrent to thieves without damaging the customer experience, and they can provide valuable data on shrink events, as well."
It’s a proven method made new again by the latest tech that can help retailers repel thieves without inconveniencing well-meaning customers. That last distinction is important, as loss prevention is likely headed into a new era of experience customisation.
“What I see coming is retailers leveraging Computer Vision and other sensors in the store, along with customer loyalty data to create a sense of friction or non-friction, depending on the type of shopper you are and your history with that retailer," said Ares. "If you're a very loyal shopper, and you frequent a given store often, and you can have a high rate of what I'll call 'trust.' In return for that trust, you'll encounter a lot less friction throughout the checkout process, enabling you to check yourself out or even use mobile checkout."
Critical Insights into Loss Events
Make no mistake — EAS systems remain an important first line of defense to help reduce shrink and safeguard merchandise. But, when integrated with a shrink analytics platform, retailers can leverage loss event data to put preventative actions in place. Insights into theft patterns, time and location, and even predictions into when the next ORC event may occur are possible. And, by incorporating RFID technology into loss prevention solutions, Shrink Visibility becomes a reality. This technology adds item level intelligence to unravel the specifics of shrink and ORC activity, dramatically reducing internal and external shrink, along with exact time, place, item, and value of each theft event. This critical data can be used to build evidence packages to aide law enforcement in the pursuit and prosecution of ORC activity.
Keeping the environment safe and secure is top-of mind for the loss prevention professional. Using computer vision technology to monitor for specific activities and behaviours is a game changer in this effort. Computer vision technology leverages existing camera infrastructure providing insights and real-time notifications of potential bad behaviour and criminal activity such as shelf sweeps, criminal tool use, groups or mobs entering a store, loitering and interaction with high-value items. These extra set of eyes will play an integral role in the new retail landscape.
Ensure Consistent Merchandise Protection
With sales associates stretched so thin, retailers may want to consider giving them every advantage in the effort to stop shrink and serve shoppers, and the most impactful thing you can give them may just be time. After all, they're being asked to do more with less, so why not give time back wherever and whenever you can?
One way to save time is by implementing a source tagging programme. It's a simple process by which merchandise is tagged at the point of manufacture ensuring consistent tagging with merchandise arriving in store ready for the sales floor. Think about it: every minute they're not tagging merchandise is another minute that could be spent on the sales floor — or keeping an eye out for unsafe behaviour.
From rising theft and ORC to increasing incidents of in-store violence, there's no denying the road ahead for retailers will be tough. On the other hand, there are now more tools and resources available than ever before, that take a cutting-edge and data driven approach to reducing shrink. Bolstering your loss prevention programme with a combination of the latest tech and new twists on proven in-store deterrence methods will help you protect your profits, products and people — no matter the theft trends in your area.