Retailers are enjoying a pandemic recovery nearly as sharp as the initial downturn, but dark forces present a counterweight to retail’s resurgence. Just as customers are flocking back to stores, so too are organized retail crime (ORC) gangs and opportunistic thieves. It’s getting so bad in some cities that merchants are just closing-up shop.
Robb Northrup, director of marketing and communications for siffron, says today’s theft environment is marked by the increasing boldness of ORC groups and normally honest shoppers turning to theft, driven by economic hardship caused by the pandemic, and using the face coverings it spurred to help them commit it. “Additionally, there is a desire to reduce confrontation and avoid escalating events into violent crime situations,” Northrup explained. “All of this, combined with a reduced headcount of in-store staff and loss prevention teams, has put the need for better shelf-level protection at a critical state.”
It’s hard to exaggerate how consequential this new theft environment has become. At a May board of supervisors hearing in San Francisco, representatives of Walgreens said thefts at its stores there were four times the chain’s national average and had gotten so bad that it closed 17 stores because business had become untenable.
Fighting back has proved difficult. CVS told the New York Times that they scaled back its security guards’ shoplifting enforcement in San Francisco because it has become so dangerous. The San Francisco-based Times journalist said that people brazenly walking out of stores with merchandise is such a common sight that he once asked a Safeway clerk if paying for things had become “optional” in the city.
Other cities are reporting similar problems, and the surge in shoplifting is evidenced by police crackdowns. In June, police in Seattle executed citywide arrests of 49 individuals for crimes including assault, organized retail theft, and shoplifting.
Fewer personnel in stores means less deterrence. Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 878,000 retail job openings in March, a two-year high, and the National Retail Federation said the shortage of store associates has become an issue for retailers. “Retailers should be aware of offenders and ORC groups that target stores with staffing constraints,” warned Northrup.
What Can Retailers Do?
As confronting thieves becomes increasingly difficult and fraught with danger, retailers should think more about investing in product protection, according to Northrup, who notes that retail stores with little product protection are more susceptible to losses in the current threat environment. Today’s product protection solutions allow retailers to deter theft despite labor constraints while supporting a positive shopping experience. “It can go a long way in reducing shrink and improving the bottom line,” he said.
LP teams that have recently been focused on other technologies will be happy to learn that on-shelf protection has also been undergoing substantial innovation. Today’s offerings mark a substantial improvement over dated perceptions of display security.
Still, some retailers fall back “on old ways of protecting items, like simply locking them up to avoid theft,” said Northrup. But that is a known sales-killer—and it may be why product protection solutions are not always top-of-mind when retailers face growing theft.
More variety is now available. Solutions can initiate notifications at the display level, for example, and some solutions take security beyond simple, passive product protection devices to active solutions that tie into existing site infrastructure. “These can communicate irregular shopping activity for a more rapid deterrence or intervention opportunity,” explained Northrup. Siffron’s solutions provide retailers with better insights into activity at the display level, allowing for better-informed decisions about staffing, inventory, and more.
Intelligent Security Hardware with Cloud-based Software
In January, siffron and MTI (Mobile Tech, Inc.) entered a partnership that combines intelligent security hardware with cloud-based software to create real-time visibility into merchandised product performance. “It enables us to provide customizable solutions that offer significant detail around product activity at the display level,” said Northrup. This detail includes information about shopping times, theft occurrences, and inventory levels. “We can then transmit that data with cloud-based data analytics, providing display-level deterrence with notifications, reporting, and trend analysis.”
Automation and interactive devices are a rapidly growing trend in retail. Applied to display security devices, it provides retailers with actionable data, insights, and initial inputs for automated response. The result for stores is more nimble and effective loss prevention. “It lets them address problem areas more quickly and to become proactive in correcting issues that result in lost sales,” explained Northrup, who added that ease-of-implementation and flexibility are additional benefits of today’s solutions. “Retailers need to constantly evolve their methods as ORC groups learn how to defeat various devices.”
Exactly how a retailer should protect its merchandise requires tailoring solutions to the retailer, the environment, the merchandise, and the objective. Getting that mix right is the focus of what siffron does to help retailers and AP teams drive success and a positive return on investment. “Display security measures are the first line of defense for the current threat, but it goes well beyond that,” said Northrup.