Holiday Crooks Are Here; Get Ready Inside and Out

Make sure you’re doing the things that shoplifters hate—and don’t forget to consider security beyond your front door.

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You’ve readied your technical systems, stocked up security supplies, gone over loss prevention protocols with staff, and tried to hire only honest seasonal workers. Now, it’s time for shoppers—and criminals—to start filling your stores.

Will you hit your LP goals this holiday season? Here’s a quick guide to help you thwart shoplifters inside the store, as well as prepare you for risks outside—because problems don’t stop and start at the store entrance.

Smart Security Inside…

Criminals steal a wide variety of merchandise, but a large percentage of the value stolen during the holidays typically involves only a small proportion of a store’s inventory. As the holiday season rolls on, it’s vital to analyze data to determine which items holiday thieves are targeting and to devise appropriate countermeasures. According to the 2016 Retail Holiday Season Global Forecast, the items that are expected to be stolen most often this holiday season are apparel, children’s toys, electronics, and electronic accessories.

What does it take to discourage a holiday shoplifter? A recent survey of shoplifters for the Journal of Interior Design found they are most deterred by:

  • Formal Surveillance—Stores dissuade shoplifting when they invest in loss prevention agents and security guards, video surveillance systems and various alarm systems, and actively cooperate with outside authorities such as local law enforcement.
  • Product Positioning—Shoplifters are given pause when sought-after items are in open areas and in clear view, such as near checkout lines.
  • Security Tagging—Retailers that use security tags on most high-theft items effectively push shoplifters to stores that only deploy security tags on 20 to 30 percent of items according to shoplifter interviews. Anti-theft technologies can be invaluable during the holiday season.

Deterrence is also enhanced—or not—by what a store’s merchandising conveys to potential shoplifters about the chance of apprehension. Well-lit and well-kept aisles suggest to potential thieves that the risk is higher than at stores with dim lighting and poorly maintained merchandise shelves. Employees who actively engage with customers suggest to shoplifters a higher likelihood that they’ll be spotted concealing merchandise.

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In addition to discouraging shoplifting, informal surveillance strategies, such as maintaining a pleasant and clean store environment, are believed to reduce consumers’ and employees’ safety and security concerns at the store level, according to a study presented at the 2012 conference of the American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences titled “Evaluating the Effects of Formal and Informal Surveillance: A Retailer’s View.”

…And Outside

The potential for crime inside retail stores typically commands the bulk of attention leading up to and during the holiday shopping season, but the risk outside is also heightened. It’s worth your consideration. A customer’s attitude toward a retailer—and even the reputation of a store location—can be significantly harmed by unwanted activity in parking areas. Risk ranges from aggressive panhandling and harassment, grabbing customers’ purchased merchandise or purses, and car-break-ins to violent assault. An unusually high amount of merchandise in vehicles during the holiday season provides an added incentive for criminals to target parking lots this time of year.

Video cameras play a key role in parking area surveillance. Some malls place security officers with binoculars on rooftops to scope out parking areas. Coordinating with local law enforcement or mall operators to add police patrols in busy parking lots can help ensure a safe shopping experience for customers.

Other possibilities can boost external security as well:

Encourage staff to assist shoppers to their cars with packages to help improve their experience and give retailers a more frequent presence in parking areas.

Remind employees about appropriate reporting procedures, in case they happen to notice a particular individual hanging around a parking area and become concerned.

Deploy security lot patrols more frequently during the holidays, and vary the routes and schedules of patrols to prevent criminals from learning where and when they can hit a parking area.

Ensure signs put would-be holiday thieves on notice that parking areas are under 24-hour video surveillance (if applicable). Notification inside is also a helpful strategy. In addition, provide clear and adequate signage to reduce confusion and help visitors move safely and efficiently through parking structures.

Position someone at the main entrance to the parking garage/area. An officer at this post can eyeball everyone who comes in and will frequently receive reports from existing visitors that they wouldn’t otherwise report, such as, “Hey, just so you know, there was a guy on Level 2 that was just hanging around.”

Produce incident frequency reports on a regular schedule so you can deploy people appropriately. In addition to parking areas, other outside areas can benefit from some special holiday attention.

  • Dumpsters and Trash Receptacle Areas—Placing stolen merchandise in trash bags, disposing of it, and retrieving it later, is a common ruse of dishonest employees. Video monitoring and more frequent checks by LP staff can help.
  • Loading Areas—These areas are hectic during the holidays, and merchandise sitting on a loading dock is a tempting target for an employee, external thief, or delivery driver. Enforce the closing of loading dock doors, patrol regularly, and use video surveillance to prevent theft.
  • Store Perimeters—Ensure exteriors are well lit, comprehensively covered by CCTV, and cleared of hiding areas, such as overgrown landscaping.

The holiday season presents one of loss prevention’s toughest challenges. First, there is crime in the store, with retail shrink this holiday season expected to be twice that of the prior two quarters, according to the 2016 Retail Holiday Season Global Forecast. And there is also the fact that crime doesn’t start and stop at the front entrance of a retail location. Parking lots and other external areas also need robust security to protect customers, merchandise, and a retailer’s reputation.

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