A Look Back, a Glimpse Forward

There were many different kinds of stories that dotted the digital landscape in 2014, many highlighting the scope and reach of loss prevention in the new age of retail. Headlines dominating the digital space spanned both the globe and the imagination as loss prevention issues remain a prominent focus of retail dialogue. Some topics were new and fresh, some felt more like repeats of stories past, and still others will ultimately influence the culture and evolution of retail for years to come.

But one constant is that things tend to move quickly in the digital space, which also means that there are times when we may need to slow things down and take a closer look. While the headlines tend to catch our attention, there are often messages in the details that strengthen our resolve and give us insights on what is yet to come. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of those stories from late 2014 and explore some of those key messages.

Data Dilemmas

As might be expected, data breaches were a dominant story in 2014. With cyber-criminals coercing their way into retail data vaults across the globe, these incidents are reshaping not only our protection strategies and the boundaries of loss prevention, but also our very approach to the way that we pay for goods and services. Banks, credit card companies, and retailers alike are searching for more effective ways to protect critical information and the lifeblood of retail commerce. However, perhaps the data breach that will have one of the more impactful long-term influences on the retail industry would not be classified as a retail-specific data breach.

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The unprecedented hack of Sony Pictures may be the most damaging cyber breach ever inflicted on an American business. Attacking the core of Sony’s business operations, the fallout forced Sony to cancel the widespread release of a major studio film. But in addition to the financial losses inflicted due to lost box-office revenue, Sony also faces astounding scrutiny as a landslide of sensitive emails and private and confidential documents were released online by the hackers.

The studio’s reputation is in shambles as embarrassing revelations spill from tens of thousands of leaked emails and other company materials. There will be the cost of defending the studio against lawsuits by ex-employees angry over the breach, the impact on moviegoers angered by the quagmire of raw comments and poor decisions, and the potential damages as the result of actors who might refuse to work with the studio. Political tensions have even mounted in the wake of the breach. Sources claim that losses could easily eclipse $200 million as a result of the fallout.

Federal investigators believe there is a direct connection between the Sony hack and the spoof movie The Interview, which is the film debut that was cancelled. The movie features a pair of journalists who are asked by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. While some may argue the “artistic” merits of filming a movie with such a distasteful premise or the intelligence of mocking a proud nation regardless of their political pitfalls, there is very little argument regarding the disastrous result.

What Does This Have to Do with Retail?

The answer lies in the reason for the attack. While the breach resulted in significant financial losses for the studio, the specific reason for the attack was not intended to be for the financial gain of the perpetrators—the incentive was retribution. The alleged hackers, who call themselves “Guardians of Peace,” have also made threats of violence if movie theatres show the film. They claim the film is the reason for the breach.

The crystal clear reminder to the retail community is that those attempting to compromise our information resources may have incentives beyond financial gain. While the protection of financial and payment data is absolutely critical, we cannot afford to lose sight of the value—and potential liability—that can be tied to all of our sensitive information.

It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that a disgruntled customer or employee might attempt to hack into our systems to release sensitive information that could cause significant damage and embarrassment to the organization. That also points to the need to remain diligent with the policies and practices designed to protect us from such insults and maintain critical security perspective in every area of the business.

Customers are looking at retail operations through a more critical eye, which threatens to change spending habits and personal choices in retail providers based on factors beyond the quality of our products. As a result we must always keep in mind that many of the challenges are much more far-reaching when it comes to the protection of our resources and the security of our data. Brand protection has added a new dimension in the face of company response. Customer service takes on a different perspective as well in light of threats that can jeopardize personal bank accounts as well as consumer preferences. All of this will lead to significant changes in business ideologies, performance models, and company planning and structure as businesses respond.

Looking at how this will potentially impact the evolution of the loss prevention profession, it becomes critical that we are active participants in the solutions process. Rather than simply reacting to decisions, we should seek out ways to proactively contribute to the process as such decisions are being developed. Whether this involves reaching out and improving our partnerships, improving our base of knowledge, learning new skills, taking on new responsibilities, or simply sharing our thoughts and ideas, we will be expected to step up to the plate. It’s always better to prepare and lead the way rather than to wait and hope for the best.

Ferguson, Missouri

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have resulted in debates all over the world and sparked many demonstrations and subsequent protests against racial injustice. To briefly summarize, a police officer attempted to stop two young men suspected of being involved in a strong-arm robbery at a local store. The situation quickly escalated resulting in a confrontation between the officer and one of the suspects, and a young man was killed. The young man was African-American and unarmed. The veteran police officer was Caucasian.

In the months since the incident, we have heard conflicting accounts of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. There have been heated discussions regarding the motives of the parties involved, the actions and intentions of the young men who were stopped, and the reactions of the police officer who responded to the scene.

In November a grand jury failed to indict the involved officer as a result of the incident, leading to additional tensions and response. While some chose to protest peacefully, others chose a different course. Retail malls have been the target of many protests. Retail shopping was disrupted on Black Friday. Unfortunately, discord spilled into the streets of Ferguson, escalating to incidents of violence, destruction of property, looting, and other acts of impropriety. In New York, a gunman recently ambushed and murdered two police officers, allegedly a revenge killing as a result of the incident in Ferguson and another incident in New York.

What led to the incidents that took place? Was it racism? Was it a lack of respect for the legal authority and a failure to appropriately respond to an officer simply trying to do his job? Was it an overzealous response by the officer or the overly aggressive behavior of the young man? Was the officer trying to protect himself? Was the young man trying to surrender? Was it anger or panic? If so, who was angry and who panicked? Regardless of personal beliefs and public opinions, there are some definitive facts—everyone involved made some extremely poor decisions, and a young man was tragically killed as a result.

For those who believe that the response of the officer wasn’t justified in this and other recent events, is it right to hold the entire law enforcement community responsible for the poor decisions of a few misguided individuals? For those condemning the actions of a few thugs that use these tragic incidents as an excuse to pillage, steal, and abuse their communities, is it right to hold those that are simply mounting peaceful demonstrations seeking awareness and change in the same light? Aren’t the answers to those questions similar to the ones that brought us here in the first place?

Taking It Full Circle

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, two young men were allegedly involved in a shoplifting incident for the theft of cigarillos from a Ferguson, Missouri, convenience store. The incident quickly escalated to a strong-arm robbery when the men were confronted by a store manager, and the manager was assaulted as they left the store with the stolen items. This simple, foolish act is what set the events in motion. Fifteen minutes later, a young man is dead, a family shattered, a community in turmoil, and a nation still looking for answers.

It seems like insanity to imagine that shoplifting a couple of dollars’ worth of tobacco products could be at the heart of such a tragic series of events; yet here we are. What does it mean? Who knows? But it does serve as a stern reminder that every incident that occurs in our stores can lead to unpredictable results. There is no such thing as a “routine” encounter with a shoplifter, and there are no limits to how quickly things can get out of hand.
Clearly, many of the issues are much more deeply rooted, and there are no easy answers or quick fixes to the problems that face our society as a whole. The best that we can hope for is to make smart decisions and stand by our own principles.

But when it comes to managing incidents in our stores, there are reasons why we have policies and practices regarding how to handle these situations. There are reasons why we don’t want our employees confronting shoplifters. There are reasons why we tell our employees that there is nothing in the store worth someone getting hurt. Is that a stretch? Ask Officer Darren Wilson or the family of Michael Brown.

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