How Intelligence and Clear Objectives Arm Retailers to Battle Crime
The retail industry is under siege. An unprecedented spike in organized retail crime (ORC), emboldened flash mobs and lone actors, homeless encampments in store parking lots, violence against store associates, and other pressures are having a devastating impact on business as well as shopper and employee safety.
At LPRC Impact 2023—a recent conference hosted by Read Hayes and his team from the Loss Prevention Retail Council—several retail asset protection and loss prevention executives shared personal experiences about the severity of the problems their stores are facing.
One retail executive recounted visiting one of his organization’s stores an hour after opening for the first time ever only to learn that it had already experienced six shoplifting incidents. Another executive spoke about confronting a shoplifter who then threatened to taser him. A conference attendee showed an alarming video of thieves ransacking a store. And the tales went on and on from there.
While retail crime isn’t a new phenomenon, the consensus among conference attendees was that during the last 24 months this type of crime had become an epidemic.
So, what can embattled retailers do? Executives are starting to evaluate and implement strategies they would have never before considered to confront the current surge of retail crime and violence head on.
Desperate to stem losses, some retailers have tried shortening store hours or limiting merchandise selections to make the location less appealing to thieves. Some companies have installed barriers or deployed technology to discourage loitering, homeless encampments, and drug usage on retail property. Others have looked at the bottom line and reached the painful decision to shutter stores.
Before deciding on a course of action, however, it’s important to note that waging war on retail crime is both a strategic and tactical exercise. Information is key so that you do not invest resources wastefully. Drill down into a store’s pain points and the type of threats to loss prevention facing a retail location.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to build out a risk evaluation or performance scorecard with key matrices for where the losses are occurring, the type of losses, the level of violence involved in an event (if any), and any other pertinent data. For a more complete picture of the store’s situation, include external factors such as the nature of the location. Is the store on a bus route or next to a highway on-ramp? Is it adjacent to another business, abandoned building, or vacant lot known for attracting criminal elements?
Once the data reveals or confirms the areas where improvements could be made, it then becomes a question of whether the store has reached a tipping point where some level of investment must be made to turn the tide. If a retailer deems an investment would be beneficial, consider that implementing a multilayered approach often delivers the best result.
Setting Concrete Objectives
Before embarking on an action plan, it is important to devise a way to measure a solution’s effectiveness—which is where setting benchmarks comes into play. Benchmarks provide reference points to compare against current and future data points and goals.
Once a solution is in place, system administrators and security leaders can compare historical and current data to see if there’s been any improvement. Results can be both quantifiable and qualifiable. Are there fewer incidents of shoplifting? Is there more foot traffic in the store? Do customers feel safer coming into the store? Is there less employee turnover? Have employee job satisfaction and morale improved?
Bear in mind that while some solutions may yield instant success, others could take six to 18 months to demonstrate a noticeable impact.
Going on the Offensive
To curtail losses and acts of violence, retailers need to go on the offensive—meaning instituting proactive measures to detect and disrupt criminal activity. As mentioned earlier, the best battle plan contains a multilayered approach that integrates people, processes, and technology to support physical and operational challenges.
Technology. There is a wealth of technology that retailers can use to trigger an alert for suspicious activity in a store, ranging from open-source cameras (which can integrate with third-party solutions) and deep learning analytics to RFID tags and GPS trackers. Intelligent sound detection solutions can alert security in real time to a gunshot or verbal aggression, while other audio elements can deter shoplifters before they can complete a theft. Facial recognition software can thwart known offenders, identify new ones, and help identify individuals coordinating with each other. License plate recognition (LPR) can capture the license plate of a getaway car.
Processes. Merchandise protection standards and communication plans can help clarify everyone’s role in minimizing store losses. Collecting and analyzing historical performance data can highlight peak store hours and risk areas on a store property, allowing staff, guards, and asset protection and loss prevention specialists to effectively deploy resources.
People. Mandatory employee education—such as behavioral awareness programs, de-escalation training, and active assailant exercises—can help staff recognize and safely disrupt potential retail crime. It’s also invaluable for retailers to foster close alliances with law enforcement, city and state government officials, and community leaders. These relationships can positively influence decisions that impact the financial viability of stores and the welfare of customers and employees.
Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Looking at today’s headlines, it seems that every retail store is presently under attack. While that may not actually be the case, retail crime is having a devastating impact across the industry and upon communities. But there are actions you can take to stem the tide. As you measure the successes you achieve, whether large or small, celebrate them with your team because every win is another blow against thieves and attackers.
James Stark is the retail segment development manager for Axis Communications, responsible for developing strategies and building relationships that expand Axis’ presence in the retail market throughout the Americas. Stark’s previous experience includes his time as vice president of loss prevention and risk management for Pier 1.