It’s really getting tight, and there’s just not a lot of room for error with intense pressure from rapidly evolving selling formats, evaporating consequence for offenders, increasing victimization, and always needing to safeguard people and places to survive. InVue’s Jeff Grant referred to this as asset protection and loss prevention’s challenge against the Upside Down (from the TV show Stranger Things) and what we call the “red shopper,” those that harm and otherwise disrupt our businesses by stealing, defrauding, and violently victimizing us and our people.
Retail LP professionals have long defied normal competitive norms by working together at conferences, by phone, during organized retail crime (ORC) investigations, and in the field, and this continues. But our call is for us to use science and seek even more collective action to suppress theft, fraud, and violence. Peter Chie, Bloomingdale’s vice president of asset protection, made this topic the focus at the Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) 2020 Kick-off Summit in New York in January.
Chie argued that asset protection needs to start out in zone 5 (beyond our parking lots), escalate in zone 4 (the parking lot itself), and continue inward. But going beyond the interior space means shared resources and action are critical. Good, consistent protective action is a little complicated and expensive. At least two things need to happen: law enforcement agencies and their communities should develop partnerships, and retailers and retail property managers should work together with researchers to dial in more effective protection and should share needed zone 5 through zone 4 investments.
Tactics and Tech
Both red and green shoppers (those we want to work and shop with us) form plans and make decisions throughout their activity spaces or in the community at large. And our mission is to better understand and affect their perceptions and behavior to enhance sales and user experience. The question is how and with what to do all this well and cost effectively. Peter Chie and his colleagues from another sixty-seven retail chains, seventy-nine solution companies, and many more believe we must form a comprehensive strategy, spell this approach out simply, tease out prioritized actions, and start to roll.
Target’s Gary Smith leads the LPRC INNOVATE Advisory Panel and is helping us articulate that very plan. We cannot and will not miss this opportunity to work collectively in an evidence-informed way to better safeguard people and other assets. And that means new studies have just commenced.
Our team trusts that law enforcement and LP practitioners need a well-thought-out and tested platform to make a difference, which means tying together tactical actions enhanced by evolving technologies. The good news is we keep combining these tools with the attract-and-delight customer tools. Immediate needs include:
1. Targeting and AP Treatment Response-Mapping Technologies. We need to identify our precise aiming points and measure how our efforts change dynamics to improve outcomes. We need to see what’s going on and graphically share that with our partners. Geographic information systems, remote sensing, and data-mapping applications allow practitioners to portray event, ORC, and other intelligence data, and use crime analysis tools like risk-terrain modeling to understand what’s driving problems at some places but not others and to more precisely schedule audits and AP store visits. In-store, near-store, across-market mapping technology identifies meaningful clusters and opportunities.
2. Smartphone Apps for Connected Stores/Teams. In-store employees must be better connected with critical situations, hazard alerts, inventory outs and location, customer service issues, and each other. Apps help us look up information, order needed items, assess service levels, and so much more.
3. Web Reporting and Social Media Sharing. Most people have access to computers to shop, submit anonymous tips to local police departments, and share their perceptions. The same goes for social media apps. Retailers are rapidly moving to leverage all types of social connections to learn more about both green and red shopper sentiments and intentions to better serve and protect. But much more could be done to detect, define, deter, and document potential and actual crime events and problems using similar digital customer analytics.
4. Shared and Individual Countermeasures. As previously mentioned, group and solo crime and loss control measures need to be refined to maximize intended effects while minimizing negative side effects. That’s where research and development (R&D) comes in handy. Shared community sensors, more powerful edge and cloud computing, and better action tools are needed.
I keep stressing that how we do things is much more important than what we do. A hidden or tiny camera might help document but is unlikely to deter. Proper LP treatment dosing is vital to make an impact. Security personnel can be positioned, adorned, equipped, and tasked in a lot of ways, as can deterrent technology. Thinking out how an intervention actually works to affect behavior and then trialing options does take a little effort, but the results can be more than worth it.
Research in Action
Research at the University of Florida and the LPRC takes all forms. Our team supports many LP teams as they, in turn, empower their enterprises. These members need insights and improvement testing to support corporate goals. We talk to criminal offenders, shoppers, and employees; we map data; we statistically analyze large datasets; and we conduct randomized field experiments. Multimethod research brings issues alive and allows us to better understand and address dynamics.
Reducing Robberies with Technology, one of three dozen studies we recently completed, looked at how we might shape anti-robbery countermeasures, particularly time-delay safes (TDS). We looked at before- and after-TDS-deployment datasets, talked to offenders, and reviewed the anti-robbery research literature to paint a more complete picture. In our in-depth qualitative interviewing with self-admitted commercial robbers (N=20), we explored the characteristics of a robber, the effectiveness of time-delay safes, the effectiveness of anti-robbery signage, and other robbery deterrents. Some of the results include:
- Among offenders interviewed, 85 percent reported targeting specific retail types, and 30 percent specifically said wireless stores.
- Time-delay safes have some deterrent effect on offenders with 70 percent of those we interviewed reporting they would be less likely to rob a known TDS store.
- Time-delay safes would cause some offenders to alter their behavior, including taking less valuable merchandise not protected by the safes.
- Other deterrents mentioned by these robbery offenders included staffing, parking lot guards/patrol cars, and more technology, which are all generating a lot more R&D questions for our teams.
Bear in mind, this research (and all research) should be considered exploratory rather than confirmatory since it adds to the photograph rather than completing it.
LPRC continues to grow with almost seventy member retailers representing almost 120,000 stores worldwide. We’re also excited to announce continuing membership growth, including more than seventy-eight solutions partners and several significant tech companies reaching out to help us grow artificial intelligence and deep learning, computer vision, power computing, and several more connected community and store initiatives.
Our LPRC INNOVATE labs have expanded to include the Ideation Lab, Simulation Lab, Activation Lab, and Engagement Lab. These labs are being linked to actual stores and can be connected to corporate offices and labs to augment retailer R&D.
We look forward to working with over 400 asset protection and loss prevention executives on the beautiful University of Florida campus at LPRC IMPACT during the first week in October 2020. Please set your travel to participate in this truly unique experience.