Risk amplification is but one part of the jigsaw that must be put together to control losses in retail stores. Making would-be offenders feel that there is an elevated risk of being caught is an important piece of the jigsaw, and a 2016 report from the ECR Community’s Shrinkage and On-Shelf Availability Group has identified three key factors that need to be taken into account when developing an action plan for making this happen.
Making Risk Amplification Visible through Retail Security Solutions
Interventions must be highly visible if they are to play a role in amplifying risk. There is no point in hiding it away or making it less than obvious to the would-be thief. For interventions such as EAS, this means making the presence of the product tag abundantly clear. Hiding it away inside the packaging does not represent a good use of the technology, especially if its presence is not indicated on the packaging. It needs to be very obvious to the would-be thief that a product is protected. Where tags are concerned, it needs to be either visibly obvious what it is, or its presence needs to be clearly marked on the product packaging.
Generating visibility, particularly for some interventions such as CCTV, may prove increasingly challenging. CCTV’s growing ubiquitous presence may undermine its ability to amplify risk in the retail environment, although research on public view monitors (PVMs) suggest that it can be achieved with a degree of success, in the short term at least. More research is required on how new forms of CCTV security technologies, such as PVMs, may help to amplify risk, particularly at self-checkouts where opportunities for deviant behavior would seem plentiful together with plausible and defendable excuses for the wily thief.
What is clear from the review is the role people can play in amplifying risk. It would seem that opportunistic and more determined professional thieves alike regard both retail sales staff and dedicated security employees as key deterrents. But staff must be visible and often proximal to the offender to be successful in amplifying risk. They need good lines of sight, and in respect to retail security guards, they need to be mobile, moving around the store.
For retail staff, the research suggests that they need to be made fully aware of their importance in amplifying risk and how they can deliver this effectively. It would seem that the attributes that make an employee good at being a retailer, particularly being highly customer-focused, are also those that seem to generate the highest rates of amplified risk in the would-be offender.
Making Risk Amplification Credible
While risk amplifiers need to be visible to the would-be thief, they also need to be credible. Thieves need to believe that the risk of apprehension is real. The research on offenders draws clear distinctions between those regarded as more opportunistic thieves compared with those who are more organized and professional. The former are more likely to believe that a range of retail security solutions and interventions are effective in making it more likely they will be caught, while the latter tend to view them with a higher degree of skepticism and disregard. This is particularly the case with EAS, where concerns about false alarms and a lack of a credible response have plagued the industry since it was first introduced over forty years ago. The evidence would suggest that this is certainly taken into account by the more determined professional thief, who will develop ways to exploit this credibility gap, but less so by the more opportunistic offender, who remains easily intimidated by its presence within the retail environment.
Making Risk Amplification Intelligent and Proactive
The retail space is changing rapidly with new technologies quickly becoming integrated, such as consumer-owned mobile devices, together with greater complexity and agility being introduced across the supply chain through developments such as online and click and collect. This emerging retail landscape presents significant challenges to how retail losses will be managed in the future—the where, the how and the who are all likely to become more complex and diverse. But it also presents potential opportunities as well in terms of how risk might be amplified in the future, not least through the use of these very same retail security solutions and developments.
Anonymity is often an important prerequisite for an offender to decide to commit an offense—they do not feel like they have been noticed, so their sense of risk is reduced. What new intelligence-focused technologies might be able to achieve is more of a loss of this sense of anonymity—the store, the shopping cart, the shelf, the product, the checkout, and the parking lot could all begin to be part of a person-focused communication process with the consumer, making them aware that their presence in the store is known.
The Risk Amplification Landscape
For retailers, the existing evidence base on what works and why in terms of amplifying risk is complicated and largely mixed. Some retail security solutions seem to work, and others less so. And all interventions are clouded by the context within which they are used. There is little doubt that amplifying risk in the retail store is a very important component of reducing the threat of crime, with success hinging on the capacity of interventions to be visible and credible—both of which are intrinsically linked to delivering an effective shopping experience for the consumer.
This article was excerpted from “Making Thieves Think Twice,” which was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of LP Magazine Europe. This excerpt was updated April 13, 2017.