Advice for Prepping Systems Now for the Upcoming Holiday Shoplifting Season

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To eliminate stress in the final days before gift giving, some shoppers hit the stores early. While many last-minute shoppers are waiting in long lines, they are home, relaxing, cocoa in hand. While these “Oh, I finished my shopping a month ago” consumers can rankle procrastinators, they’re a useful model for loss prevention. Prepare now—especially with respect to anti-theft technologies—so you’re ready for the thieves that accompany every holiday season.

Retailers make as much as 50 percent of their yearly profits over the holiday season, but it can sometimes seem that thieves do as well. All aspects of loss prevention are put to the test.

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  • The risk of cargo theft incidents is much higher during the holiday season, according to FreightWatch International. Organized cargo theft rings are particularly active over the Thanksgiving weekend, for example, and risks are acute at store locations as well; whether trailers are transported and maintained at loading dock areas or storage cartons are located on the premises.
  • About 3.5 percent of all holiday returns are fraudulent, costing retailers a total of $2.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2015 Return Fraud Survey.
  • ‘Tis the season of shoplifting. Out of the primary shopping seasons, the end-of-year holiday season is the highest theft time for 72 percent of US retailers, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer (GRTB), 2013-2014. In fact, nearly half of yearly losses suffered by retailers (46 percent) occur in winter, almost twice as much as the next season (autumn)—and the chief cause is shoplifting.

Just as holiday sales can make or break a retailer, the season is the ultimate test of a LP department. “Crime rates in some regions go up almost double around the holidays and unfortunately retailers see heightened occurrences of theft, fraud, and shoplifting,” said Bob Moraca, vice president for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation (NRF). Between the holidays of Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, retail thefts go up “exponentially,” he added.

Problematically, seasonal variables make some theft prevention strategies less effective; this, at the very time that they’re needed most.

Seasonal sales associates, for example, are heavily relied upon during the holiday season but they are likely to be less attuned to signs of shoplifting. Even if they are aware of shoplifting behavior, crowds make it harder to spot it. When stores feel like madness, they are usually too busy trying to manage customers, keep shelves stocked, and maintain aisles in good order to notice if someone is stealing. Crowds also lessen the theft prevention value of staff, as shoplifters are keenly aware of the cover that large crowds give them. Furthermore, carrying large bags is common during the holidays, and so not the tip-off to LP staff of possible criminal intent that they are during the rest of the year. Finally, long lines, and the resulting frustration, can become a justification to steal for normally honest shoppers.

These many challenges, taken together, suggest that it can be harder to rely on personnel theft prevention strategies during the holiday shoplifting season. As a result, your stores’ anti-theft technologies become even more valuable.

  • Electronic article surveillance (EAS) antennas, labels, and tags are the most popular solutions for loss prevention at the product level, used by 73 percent of retailers, according to the 2014-2015 GRTB. Just as early present shopping can ease the Christmas crunch, loss prevention teams should be sure to order now all the supplies they’ll need to fully leverage this key security tool throughout the holiday season.
  • If applicable, retailers should also ensure they have a complete inventory of spider wraps and security pods/containers (used by 44 percent of retailers) and secure cable devices (employed by 27 percent).
  • Now is also the time to test and review systems to ensure they’re working properly, and to enforce daily testing protocols to keep them that way. CCTV, video analytics, and EAS may be at the core of a shoplifting prevention program, but the value they provide depends on them working optimally.

The run-up to the holidays is also the time to review, revamp as necessary, and reiterate loss prevention policies and procedures, including shoplifting apprehension protocols and cash control policies and cash pick-up procedures, and relevant store policies, such as managing fitting rooms or alternating the direction of hangers on racks.

This year, that review should also account for the increase in omni-channel retailing. According to the NRF’s 2016 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook, “buy online, pick-up in store and buy online, return in store are on the rise.” Loss prevention leaders should establish protocols to ensure that that such merchandise is protected from theft while waiting for pick-up or after drop-off.

It’s also time to begin making store layout considerations, to ensure that merchandise most likely to be targeted by thieves this holiday season is positioned to maximize its visibility and away from exits. Now is also a good time to review placement of store security mirrors, CCTV cameras, lighting, and loss prevention signage (such as “Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted.”)

Finally, theft prevention may not be the only policy area that LP leaders should assess. A social media monitoring strategy, for example, can be helpful for advanced warning of threats such as holiday flash mobs. And the crush of crowds at special events such as doorbuster sales make it especially important to manage crowds effectively. In addition to the real risk crowds pose to safety, retailers often face the cost of defending itself against fabricated injury claims by unscrupulous individuals who know that anytime a crowd is pushing, there is a lawsuit waiting to be filed. The NRF has released an updated edition of its Effective Crowd Management Guidelines, which help retailers prepare for both expected and unexpected events. OSHA has also issued recommendations, Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers.

The holiday season is still a few months away, but taking action now will go a long way to protect your store’s holiday profits. Make sure anti-theft technologies are working properly. Stock up on related supplies. Prime your policies and procedures. Prep your team. Get ready now so you’re ready for the holiday shoppers—and the shoplifters who will be among them.

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