What is a loss prevention manager? What might appear to be a fairly simple question now requires a much more complicated answer in a new age of retail where roles and responsibilities are changing on a consistent basis.
To the average consumer, a loss prevention manager might be perceived as a “security guard”: a reactionary presence in a retail establishment whose primary responsibility is to apprehend shoplifters. Tales of shoplifters subjected to “heavy-handed” forms of justice and employee investigations that often result in nothing more than a slap on the wrist have been viewed by many as the norm. And why not? Shoplifters are primarily kids stealing candy bars and lipstick, right? Does it really make that much difference if an employee borrows a couple bucks from the register to buy their lunch once in awhile? The profession can be perceived as a necessary but unattractive (and largely unwanted) cost of doing business—a value measured simply by the extent of its potentially negative impact.
Those who have filled these roles have often been seen as uneducated, inexperienced individuals that are passing the time waiting to finish college or for an opportunity to become a public law enforcement officer, an individual who “wasn’t good enough” to serve in law enforcement, or a former law enforcement officer biding their time until they retire. They have been viewed as rigid, authoritarian, and one-sided. They have a singular objective and an inflexible view of right and wrong. They “look for the worst in people,” and are frequently discriminatory in their approach to the customers visiting their stores. What would make someone pursue a job like that?
The Real Role of Loss Prevention
In reality, these perceptions are far from accurate. Serving in a position as a security guard is a fine and important profession, but respectfully is absolutely nothing like serving as a retail loss prevention manager any more than making cars is the same job as selling cars. There may be a common gear, but some significant differences distinguish one profession from the next.
Loss prevention managers and police officers often work together in various situations and while conducting investigations. There are different aspects of the profession that require similar skills, mutual respect, and strong working relationships. But that doesn’t mean that every loss prevention professional has the desire to serve as a law enforcement officer. In fact, depending on the retailer and the specific role, a background as a law enforcement officer might not be a good fit for the company or a good fit for a former officer looking to pursue a second career.
The role of loss prevention is to enhance the profitability of the business—just like every other role in retail. To a large extent, this involves exploring opportunities and implementing plans that result in the reduction of retail shrink, and all of the various issues that can result in retail losses whether the result of external losses, internal losses, operational and paperwork errors, and any and all other potential sources. It encompasses the protection of all company assets, as well as our customers and employees. Often there is a significant responsibility for safety, various audit functions, employee training and awareness, and other responsibilities within the business. Ideas, approaches, philosophies—they’re all going to vary slightly based on the individual program. But ultimately loss prevention requires taking a more active role in the business of retail and becoming a balanced, flexible and open-minded professional.
Retail as a Business, Loss Prevention as a Profession
According to current research, retail sales in the United States are expected to approach nearly five trillion dollars in 2016, and retail shrink will result in tens of billions of dollars in loss to retail organizations, just as it does every year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the retail trade sector is among the largest employers of the private-sector workforce in the country. Consumer demands and the latest technologies are revolutionizing the way that we shop as well as the way that we display and purchase goods—which also sparks the criminal element to pursue new and different ways to steal and exploit the retail business and the retail customer. Cyber crimes, organized retail crime, and a host of other illicit activities are now everyday occurrences in the retail setting. All of this requires individuals that are creative, flexible, dedicated, focused, disciplined, and hard-working.
Those involved in loss prevention as a profession are often educated and highly experienced. They are required to balance different roles and take on new responsibilities on a regular basis. There are accredited, industry-specific certifications (like those provided by the Loss Prevention Foundation) that offer educational opportunities and help establish industry best practices. There are established approaches to all elements of a loss prevention manager’s role, from shoplifting prevention and employee interviewing techniques to employee management and leadership skills.
Loss prevention reflects our evolving business strategies, sending the message that we serve to prevent all types of losses and enhance the business plan. Moving beyond strategic changes, this also embraces the retail world as a whole, operating as partners and securing a place as part of the successful business model.
So what is a loss prevention manager? Those seasoned professionals that serve the retail industry each and every day may each provide a slightly different answer based on their background and experience. But the message will ultimately be the same. Whether covering one store or one hundred, these are the people who protect and serve the retail industry—as partners, as innovators, and as professionals.
This article was originally published in 2016 and was updated January 30, 2017.