Overcoming ORC and Theft: Strategies for Safer Retail

September 21, 2023


Increasing — and increasingly violent — retail crime has become a worldwide concern. While some regions, like the majority of APAC, have managed to buck the trend, retailers nearly everywhere else are having to contend with escalating threats to store safety.

Organised Retail Crime (ORC) in the US has skyrocketed, introducing another form of theft for retailers to grapple with. These instances, usually involving two or more people connected to a larger enterprise, stealing items in bulk with the intention to resell, have increased 27% in just one year. Meanwhile, retail crime is up in Australia and the UK, the latter of which experienced an alarming 867 incidents of violent or abusive behaviour towards retail staff per day.

No matter where you are, failing to respond to these new and growing threats can hurt your bottom line, harm your brand reputation, and dilute the customer experience. Consider the strategies below to create a safe and secure retail environment that’s in tune with the realities of today’s landscape.

Why The Rise?

From the pandemic and its aftereffects to today’s high inflationary environment, there are a constellation of factors contributing to the global uptick in theft.

The accelerated adoption of self-checkout stations, convenient for customers — but also, unfortunately, thieves — mixed with increasingly lenient penalties for shoplifting have aggravated conditions further.

"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. I spoke with a major sports apparel retailer recently who confided that they were considering making some of their stores 'bakery style,' where you have to order at a window, rather than browsing traditionally. That's how bad it's gotten in some markets."

Solutions For Safer Retail

So, what solutions should retailers look to in order to secure their sales environments without damaging the customer experience? "It starts with reasserting control," said Dustin Ares, General Manager, Video Analytics, AI, & Incubation at Sensormatic Solutions.

"First, in pursuit of a better customer experience, and then in a reaction to labour shortages, retailers relaxed many of the controls that dissuaded bad actors from defrauding them. Now, they need to reassert or reclaim some of those controls."

For retailers, however, it’s about more than just regaining the reins over shopping environments — they need to signal to well-intentioned shoppers that they're doing so and taking all available measures to combat bad actors. That’s easier said than done.

Many of the measures that deter bad actors, also deter well-meaning shoppers, just not in the same way. Locking more products behind glass may reduce shoplifting, but it can also reduce shopping in general. Too many added inconveniences, and customers may begin looking elsewhere for a more frictionless shopping experience.

Reasserting Control

Reasserting control begins with more public displays of deterrence. That could take the form of installing more public view monitors, for instance. Adorning your entrances, self-checkout stations, and high-risk merchandise areas with not just cameras but hi-definition feedback of live feeds sends an unmistakable message to both customers and shoplifters that you take safety seriously.

Monitors are important, but they’re still just a preliminary line of defense — yet “hardening the target” further is when retailers start approaching that uncomfortable tradeoff between safety and sales.

"Retailers have defaulted to doing this the old-fashioned way with locked cases, but that crushes their sales and impacts the customer experience,” said Meade. “But 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 electronic article surveillance (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."

Stocking your shelves with source-tagged products can help ensure your merchandise remains consistently tagged — no matter your current staffing levels. With tagging taking place at the source of manufacture, overloaded sales associates will have one less task to worry about. With the current retail staffing shortage, this can be a huge advantage for retailers, and free up in-store teams to remain more vigilant.

Dig Deeper with a Connected EAS System

Having an EAS system in place provides a strong foundation for your loss prevention program, but don't stop there.

A connected EAS system can leverage the Shrink Management as a Service (SMaaS) analytics platform to reveal where and when items are being stolen and turn that information into data you can use to prevent shrink. SMaaS can help you connect the dots between data points and generate insights to identify loss patterns, uncover possible ORC activity, and even predict future theft targets. In fact, it can even generate insights into where ORC activity is likely to occur within the next seven days so you can put a preventative plan in place.

To get a deeper understanding of shrink events, RFID technology can provide the Shrink Visibility needed for more powerful insights. RFID-encoded tags and labels enable the collection of item-level detail on what went missing when and can also identify bulk-loss events where multiple items are stolen at one time — usually indicative of an ORC occurrence. This new data can be leveraged to build evidence files and integrated with captured video so retailers can assist law enforcement in the pursuit and prosecution of these criminal offenders.

Level Up Your Loss Prevention Programme with Computer Vision

Combating rising retail theft — and organised retail crime especially — will require an equally organized response. While a connected EAS system can deter thieves and provide powerful preventative analytics after a loss event, you can elevate its effectiveness with Computer Vision.

By tapping into real-time footage from your existing camera infrastructure, Computer Vision — operating on a small edge device about the size of a hardcover book — uses the latest in AI and machine learning to detect and provide real time notifications on suspicious shopping behavior as it happens. Activating an important, yet traditionally passive, part of your security infrastructure provides far-reaching, always-on coverage that’s hard to beat.

Computer Vision analytics are developed to address specific retail use cases and can be on the watch for criminal activity helping retailers take a more defensive position against crime and theft. For example, Computer Vision analytics can flag a vehicle that's in an unauthorised area, notify you when a large group is entering at once, and even detect when a shelf sweep is in progress. It's a relatively simple way to leverage your existing camera infrastructure to gain access to a new source of insights into shrink and criminal behaviours.

"There is some investment involved in making the kind of connections that can lead to intelligence-led loss prevention" Ares noted. "But it may be a lower investment than retailers expect. Many Computer Vision solutions, for example, can work alongside existing camera infrastructure and require only a single hardware device to do so. That's a manageable expense and a manageable deployment — and it can lead to actionable insights almost immediately."

Create Friction and Protect Merchandise

Analytics, AI, and advanced sensors may be the future of loss prevention, but the traditional ways still work, too. Namely, ensuring that would-be thieves know they're being watched and know that merchandise is physically protected. Technologies like public-view monitors installed in high-shrink areas, like self-checkouts and near changing room entrances, can communicate to ORC groups and opportunistic thieves that their actions are on camera.

Likewise, merchandise protection solutions like safers, wraps, hard tags, and labels create a layer of "friction" between thieves and the products they might otherwise steal. And while they also create a bit of friction for well-meaning shoppers, they also communicate that you take safety and security seriously — something honest shoppers will likely take note of and appreciate.

Key Takeaways

Rising retail crime and the growing threat of ORC have retailers on their back foot, but it’s time to retake control.

Creating a secure retail environment is critical to ensuring safety for you and your team, but failing to do so can also wreak havoc on your bottom line and brand reputation. By "hardening the target" and creating friction for bad actors, leveraging data from solutions like SMaaS and Computer Vision analytics to spot trends and be more proactive, and using video footage and RFID item-level loss data to help law enforcement build more effective cases, you can build a retail environment in which shoppers can know that you're invested not only in preventing theft, but also in their safety.

For a closer look behind the rise of shoplifting and ORC around the world, along with strategies on how to align your loss prevention programme in response, check out our latest white paper, "Secure Retail in the New World".


Explore related topics

clothing and accessories displayed in retail apparel store

Ready to see how Sensormatic Solutions can transform your bottom line

Request a Call