Shoplifting is a crime that costs millions each year. Retailers and paying consumers end up paying the price when prices are inevitably increased to recover the cost of this crime. This article is all about retail loss prevention, with some actionable strategies you can put in place today.
Retail loss – also called shrinkage – hurts both consumers and retailers of all sizes.
There are two types of shoplifters to watch out for on the high street – amateur shoplifters or opportunists and professional organised criminals who may steal to order, or profit from their thefts by selling items via online marketplaces.
All theft poses a significant risk for retailers and paying customers alike, so here are some different methods you can use in any store to prevent losses from theft. According to Retail Research, over £5.5 billion was lost to theft in 2019, which is extremely significant.
Anti-theft measures have been in stores for decades now, which when used correctly are highly effective ways of preventing theft from shoplifting.
Here are some retail loss prevention strategies you can implement in your business to reduce shrinkage and make your stores a better environment for your staff and paying customers.
Security Alarms and Tags
Retailers have been putting tags on items to prevent thefts for decades. Usually, items (especially clothing) are tagged with magnetic tags that trigger an audio alarm if someone attempts to leave with a tagged item.
Security tags are removed by staff at the point of purchase for genuine customers. Retailers also use covert tagging inside items, rather than tagging directly at the label, which makes them more difficult for thieves to detect and remove.
Occasionally, security tags on items are not active, but their presence is enough to deter someone from attempting theft. There are also ‘smart’ tags that are unique to each item, so retailers will know exactly which items triggered the alarm.
They’re also notoriously difficult to remove, often needing a strong magnet that’s fixed in place on the checkout counter to avoid misuse.
Tagging systems rely on detection, so alarms should be tested regularly by members of staff walking past the detectors with a tag in their hand.
Be aware of excuses that people use like “oh, I always set the alarms off! It’s just me” – these excuses are rarely true.
Staff ID badges, lanyards, keys and jewellery are rarely responsible for false alarms. Sometimes, small items such as makeup do have security tags or stickers left on them by mistake.
Either way – staff should be suspicious every time the anti-theft alarm sounds, if it’s a genuine mistake then customers should be equally understanding and are most likely to cooperate.
Visible CCTV cameras in prominent places, such as near the entrance/exit, the checkout area and close to high-value goods can deter opportunist shoplifters.
When paying customers are in the store, they won’t notice or even care where the cameras are, but shoplifters will look up and around to note the location of cameras – this is also a tell-tale sign for retail staff to look out for.
Good Customer Service helps Retail Loss Prevention
This one won’t cost you anything!
Have a member of staff near the entrance to greet customers as they enter the store and to thank them as they leave. That in itself could be a deterrent to would-be opportunities and also creates a friendly environment for your genuine customers.
While customers are browsing, ensure that members of staff are visible and available on the shop floor. Having a staff member approach and say “Let me know if you need any assistance today” or “Hi, can I help you?” could also deter a shoplifter, as shoplifters definitely do not like being approached by staff members!
Retail staff can also use this technique if they’re suspicious of a customer. Good customer service is also a method of security as visitors to the store will know that they’ve been noticed.
Get Familiar with the common shoplifting methods
Get to know the techniques used by shoplifters to conceal items.
- Holding a coat or jacket over their arm to conceal items beneath
- In a clothing store, hiding smaller items inside larger items before going into the fitting rooms
- Repeat visits to a store, always leaving without making any purchase
- Looking around to see the location of cameras or mirrors
- Entering the store with a large, empty bag (although many genuine customers now shop with eco-friendly ‘bags for life’ so it’s not as strong a sign as it used to be)
Also, look for customers who behave suspiciously, looking over their shoulder or purposely keeping out of view of staff and other customers.
Clothing fitting rooms are common places for shoplifters to target as there’s privacy for them to conceal items out-of-view. Staff should personally take items and carry them into the changing room for customers, counting them as they go, this will stop people trying to hide smaller items insider larger ones.
Busy clothing stores should also check pockets of coats and inside handbags when they’re sold to ensure that smaller items are not concealed inside – it’s extremely common!
Use a Code Word between Staff
If you have a suspicious customer in your store, it’s a good idea to communicate this with your colleagues in a discreet way. You certainly don’t want to shout something like “keep an eye on that man in the green coat, he might be stealing stuff!”
Instead, you can use a non-descript code word to communicate this to your colleagues . This may be “are there any green stickers in the cosmetics aisle?” or “could you check is Jane is at the back of the shop?” with ‘green stickers’ or ‘Jane’ being the discreet code words here.
Make sure that all staff know this word, so it sounds casual to customers but alerts the team to be vigilant. This is a discreet method of retail loss prevention that can be highly effective.
Store Net Radio Systems
Many high streets and city centres have radios that allow local stores to communicate between each other. This can be helpful for sharing information about potential shoplifters so staff can be aware of specific individuals.
These systems are often administered by the Local Authorities or Police Services and also have a fee associated with them, but are an important part of security for small businesses and shopping centres.
Career shoplifters will know exactly which shops are part of the radio system and which aren’t, so having the radio can be a deterrent in itself.
Be Alert During Busy Times
Things are quite different now with social distancing and fewer people inside at any given time. As we all live in hope that this will all soon be over, the high streets will start to get busy again.
Busy times with larger crowds of people make it easier for shoplifters to blend in and go unnoticed. During busy times, train your staff to be present and walk around the store where possible to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, as well as provide good service to customers.
Alternatively, many larger stores hire additional dedicated security staff for busier periods.
Reduce Internal Theft from Staff
Unfortunately, team members can also pose a risk when it comes to shoplifting. They have access to the inner-workings of the store, they know the policies and know all the anti-theft methods used.
Even store managers who have additional responsibilities like being a key-holder, having access codes to the safe or be responsible for cashing-up each day have multiple opportunities to commit theft or fraud – so policy is so important.
Here are some examples of store-level policies:
- Team members cannot enter the store alone, there must always be 2 or more present (always useful for staff safety)
- Witnesses must be present during cashing up or depositing cash into the safe – with signatures required in a log book on each occasion
- Staff are not permitted to bring stock into the staff room, or personal items (e.g. phones) onto the shop floor
Occasional ‘hands-off’ bag searches, locker checks or even anti-theft alarms in staff-only areas (e.g. kitchens or staff rooms) can also be used to prevent internal theft.
There are also Legal HR considerations when it comes to managing the integrity of your team, so preventing internal theft requires careful and balanced management.
Professional Retail Loss Prevention Training
Do you want to know more about preventing loss in your retail business?
A Retail Loss Prevention qualification has been developed to prepare learners working in a retail environment. The course gives you the knowledge and understanding of how to identify and prevent loss from damage, administrative errors or criminal activities.
This qualification will greatly benefit any teams who are concerned about retail loss.