Tis The Season for Holiday Theft

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the lengths that some customers will go in order to conduct their holiday shopping honestly. They’ll brave the cold, long lines on Black Friday. They’ll put their list on layaway and put whatever they can toward it. And sometimes, they’ll watch their loved one’s best attempt at concealing disappointment on Christmas morning, because they just didn’t have the means to make their wish come true. They don’t deserve an award for doing the right thing, but taking a moment to think about the 99 percent of customers who are honest can lift our spirits a bit before we turn to the task at hand.

Holiday shoplifting is a tough nut to crack. Stores are packed to the brim with bustling gift-getters, and every second an associate spends dealing with potential theft is a missed sales opportunity.

Temptation looms large for customers with long Christmas lists, longer lines, and the anonymity of a crowded room. Habitual shoplifters will take advantage, no doubt, but perhaps more disheartening is the otherwise honest opportunist. Why is it okay here and now if it’s not usually okay? And how can we stop them? Below, I’ll summarize a few cool holiday-themed research findings and how they can help keep customers honest:

Holiday Sounds and Smells

What They Tested: Using stimuli associated with the Christmas holiday season, researchers explored the joint effects of ambient scent and music on consumers’ evaluations of a store. A 2 (no scent vs. Christmas scent)×2 (non-Christmas music vs. Christmas music) experimental design was implemented in a mock retail store.

Finding: Results indicate that the effects of adding an ambient Christmas scent are moderated by the nature of the background music. In particular, consumers’ evaluations are more favorable when the Christmas scent is in the presence of Christmas music. The presence of the Christmas scent with non-Christmas music, however, lowers evaluations.

How to Keep Customers Honest: Previous LPRC research has indicated that people use their “gut feeling at the moment” to determine whether they’ll get away with deviant behavior. Mismatching stimuli, such as having Christmas decorations with no Christmas music, or vice versa, may make would-be shoplifters feel more aware of their surroundings and make their gut tell them “something isn’t right”.

Trick or Treat. Or Steal.

What They Tested: A naturalistic study was conducted on Halloween to assess the effects of three deindividuation variables on stealing by children. Concealed raters unobtrusively observed over 1,300 trick-or-treating children who were assigned to various conditions and given an opportunity to steal candy and money. The independent variables were anonymity versus nonanonymity, alone versus group, and groups with or without a child who was made responsible for the group actions.

Finding: Significantly more stealing was observed under conditions of anonymity and in the presence of a group. The highest rates of stealing occurred among anonymous children in groups with altered responsibility.

How to Keep Customers Honest: The key here, as has been shown with LPRC research, is personal culpability. When a suspicious group enters your store, greet and service each one individually. Another parallel in retail is an alarming EAS pedestal with multiple possible culprits. Do everything you can during the holiday season to ensure that as high a percentage of customers as possible go through the pedestals alone.

Happy holidays from the LPRC team! If you’d like to armor up with some additional tips and research findings before Black Friday and Christmas, please reach out to operations (at) lpresearch (dot) org.

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