EDITOR’S NOTE: Oscar Arango is vice president of assets protection at Target. His thirty years of experience includes loss prevention management roles with Timberland and Urban Outfitters prior to Target.
JIM LEE: What does asset protection mean at Target in terms of what areas of responsibility you have?
OSCAR ARANGO: The role of our assets protection team is to keep people safe, first and foremost. We have three teams within assets protection—one for our stores, one for our supply chain facilities, and a team at headquarters that drives the strategy and supports investigations. We also, of course, protect our products and make sure they’re available on the sales floor for guests to buy. And we support our teams through any type of crisis, whether it’s manmade or a natural disaster. Our teams are trained to respond and get our stores back in business as quickly and safely as possible after a disruption.
JIM: Target’s team has earned a reputation as a leader in several aspects of the asset protection industry. Let’s start with refund programs. Target was one of the first to implement a computerized refund program, correct?
OSCAR: Yes, we always want to make sure that we’re meeting the guests where they are and making that process as seamless and as easy as possible.
JIM: Do you find that over the years refund fraud has declined, stayed about the same, or increased?
OSCAR: There are always bad actors out there who try to find loopholes within refund processes, to try to take advantage—and that’s true at any retailer. What I am very proud of at Target is the partnership that assets protection has with teams across the enterprise to ensure that we are identifying those gaps quickly and closing whatever loopholes exist.
JIM: Another area that Target has been a leader in over the years is organized retail crime (ORC). Talk about where you are today with ORC.
OSCAR: As you know, organized retail crime is a growing problem and a multi-billion-dollar issue across the retail industry. We’ve invested in resources dedicated to combating ORC. We have teams of investigators that are positioned in key markets throughout the country to help identify, resolve, and work with law enforcement to build cases to prosecute these organized crime rings. Our efforts in this area focus on building technology, tools, resources, and training to resolve large-scale cases. I’m really proud of our investigations team. They come with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds in this space, and the team works hard every day to identify and close cases.
JIM: You have ORC teams both in the field as well as the corporate office?
OSCAR: Yes, we have field-based leaders as well as a team of investigators at our headquarters that focuses on ORC.
JACK TRLICA: Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour your ORC field center in Las Vegas. Are you still operating the lab? Please share anything about these that you’re allowed to discuss.
OSCAR: Target has a top-rated forensic services laboratory that provides forensic examinations for internal cases. Our lab is among fewer than 400 crime labs accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), which underscores Target’s commitment to quality forensic work. Team members work on organized retail crimes committed at Target stores through video and image analysis, latent fingerprint, and computer forensics.
JIM: Throughout the industry, ORC is continuing to evolve as a significant challenge, so Target’s efforts are honorable.
OSCAR: Absolutely. During my time in the loss prevention industry, it has become easier for bad actors to sell stolen merchandise. Before online platforms, bad actors were selling stolen merchandise at flea markets and bodegas, but today they can sell goods online. Our goal is to continue to help identify those criminals and build cases that can be referred and prosecuted.
JIM: For a long time, Target has been known as a company that promotes from within more than from the outside. How do you go about achieving that?
OSCAR: That’s one of the things that Target prides itself on. When I came to Target almost seventeen years ago, I came with a wide array of experience within the industry. I had worked in big box retail and specialty retail, and when I first came to Target, I was offered a job in a store leading the assets protection team. One of the things that they spoke to me about in the interview was this developmental culture that exists at Target, and the time Target invests in individual development. I quickly learned that it wasn’t just talk. Our company culture puts an emphasis on growing our teams from within.
It starts with setting clear expectations—being very intentional about the types of leaders that we want within the organization—and then having an actionable development plan along the way. We also identify opportunities for growth and support our team members as they build their skills over the long term. Because of that culture, I was able to grow from leading in a store to now leading the entire assets protection organization.
It’s not lost on me how fortunate and blessed I am to have been the beneficiary of strong talent development, and I try to pay that forward with my team. The assets protection organization puts a strong focus on attracting talent, developing that talent, making sure that we put people in situations that are going to make them successful, and getting them to their finish line. It’s something that we’ve been able to do over the years, and it’s something that we’ll continue to do.
JIM: Would you address any special programs you have for diversity and inclusion in your hiring and promoting practices?
OSCAR: Inclusivity is a core value at Target and something that has been a priority for us for a long time. Just last year in the summer of 2020, we established the Racial Equity Action and Change Committee to accelerate our ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, but with a unique focus on advancing racial equity for our black team members and guests. We have ongoing conversations about ensuring we are providing opportunities for our diverse teams and making sure our teams are reflective of the communities we serve. I think that’s a very important aspect for our team members from across the country—to be able to look at their leaders and see that there is an opportunity for them. It’s something that we’ve really focused on and will continue to focus on.
JACK: Please talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Target in general. Who leads that work and what kind of impact has it had on your organization?
OSCAR: Kiera Fernandez is Target’s current chief diversity and inclusion officer. She’s responsible for driving the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work with a team and strategy that’s been in place for more than fifteen years. Kiera’s done great work to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded in the work we do across Target, so that everyone who engages with us feels valued and respected.
JIM: Shifting gears a bit, talk about the pandemic and the effects it has had on retail operations and crime.
OSCAR: As the pandemic started, there was a lot of uncertainty, and we were learning as we went. At Target, every decision that we’ve made since the pandemic started was grounded in the safety of our team and guests. For us in the assets protection organization, we’ve invested heavily in making sure we have resources available to handle whatever situation comes up, whether it’s in our stores or in our supply chain buildings, and making sure we’re taking a proactive approach to keep our team and guests safe.
JIM: Historically, there are some cities that have always been high in crime. Have any new cities shown increases in crime?
OSCAR: There are always challenges across the country, but we focus on a proactive approach. We have a visible security presence at every one of our stores, to make sure our guests know they are welcome at Target and that we’re going to provide a safe, equitable experience for everyone who walks in the door. That really starts with the people we hire in the stores and the folks that we bring into the assets protection team, making sure they’re leading with that welcoming, friendly experience.
JACK: You mentioned earlier your team’s responsibility for the supply chain. Describe the role that AP plays in the supply chain at Target?
OSCAR: Like our responsibility in stores, keeping people safe is core to our work throughout the supply chain. We are tasked with the physical security of our distribution center buildings and making sure that we control all access points, to ensure that whether it’s visitors or our team, we are keeping them safe. We are training our AP teams at our supply chain buildings to de‑escalate and handle whatever situations may come up. Also, we are tasked with ensuring we’re identifying any shortage or shrink risks that exist within our buildings. We use technology, reporting, and tools aimed at identifying those shortage opportunities, so we can address them in a timely manner.
JIM: Target has been a longtime supporter of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Tell us about the value that you and many other asset protection leaders have gleaned from RILA, especially through the past two years of the pandemic.
OSCAR: RILA has been an important partner these past two years. I can’t express enough how valuable it’s been to sit down with leaders from across the industry on a weekly basis as we navigated the uncertainty of 2020 and everything that was going on throughout the country. It really provided a platform for us to be able to share and learn from each other, as so many things were changing quickly. It was an invaluable experience and something that continues to this day; sharing challenges that are being faced across the country and across different retailers and what strategies folks are implementing. It created connection points with people that maybe didn’t exist in the past, and we’ll continue learning from each other. We’re all in this together.
JIM: Another association that you’ve recently become involved with is the Loss Prevention Foundation, as you’ve been elected to the board of directors. What do you see as the benefits of the foundation?
OSCAR: The Loss Prevention Foundation allows individuals in the industry to continue to learn and grow in their profession. One of the things that stands out to me about the foundation is the way they are evolving. The foundation has just recently changed the certification training program, updating it to ensure the coursework is current and addressing the unique challenges the industry is facing today versus ten years ago. It’s something I believe is helpful as we bring people into the industry and upskill them to handle the challenges our industry faces daily.
JACK: Target was one of the founding members of the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC). I think King Rogers (Target’s vice president of AP at the time) helped start the organization a couple of years before you arrived at Target. What’s the current status of Target’s involvement with the LPRC?
OSCAR: The LPRC has done some great work to advance the industry and to continue to stay ahead of emerging risks. It’s something that we are proud to support, and we look forward to the continued partnership.
JACK: Can you talk about some of the LPRC research projects that Target supported and how you made use of the results in your program? I’m thinking about product protection, burglary prevention, and any other programs that were influenced by the research.
OSCAR: Top of mind is the research and findings relating to industry trends around stores that are experiencing high shortage and loss. We worked with the LPRC to survey the industry to get insight into how other retailers have been affected and what steps they have taken, which we then use to inform our approach.
Another great example is a collaborative study we did on gift card scams, specifically elderly and IRS fraud-type scams. Our team worked closely with the LPRC to study the issue and release industry findings. Overall, they have been helpful in connecting our team to resources and thought partners across the industry and in academia as it relates to loss prevention and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
JIM: When and why did you start a career in loss prevention?
OSCAR: I started my career in loss prevention right out of high school. My first job was working for a big box retailer as a plain clothes loss prevention associate catching shoplifters. Like many people in our industry, I had intentions of becoming a police officer. In that first job, I was very fortunate to be able to work for a fantastic leader named Wendy—someone who was passionate about what she did, but always took a human approach to the business. She held us accountable in a way that helped us grow and learn from our mistakes, but she also made it fun to come to work every day. It was my first exposure to real leadership.
As I grew with that organization and became a leader, I started to evaluate what I really wanted to do with my career. When I was eventually offered a job with a police department, I turned it down because I was enjoying what I was doing, and I’d come to love the retail industry. That grew into being able to work for different organizations and specialty retailers.
I found my way to Target seventeen years ago, and Target and I are a perfect marriage because this organization stands for everything that I value and care about. That starts with the people, and the way that we take care of our team. We’ve made significant investments over the past couple of years in our team—everything from bonuses to education assistance, to the ways we showed up for our team members and guests throughout the pandemic.
Something that continues to live true is how much we invest and care about people—that’s something that I want to pay forward with our assets protection teams. We have countless stories of folks who have started in a store in an hourly position and are now leading at a higher level. And that’s across Target, not just assets protection. I believe someone who’s in a store or distribution center right now can be sitting in my chair in a few years. My job is to make sure that we do everything possible to help people realize their full potential.
JIM: Oscar, thank you for your leadership in asset protection across the industry. Last, tell us something that most people do not know about you.
OSCAR: You typically think of people that work in this industry as being tough and strong. Yet, I am a big teddy bear at heart. When I hear stories of how our teams are showing up in our stores and our supply chain buildings and taking care of our guests and team members in a very different way than we ever have before, it tugs at my heartstrings. I read some of these stories and get teary eyed. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do. It gives me hope that whatever challenges we may face, whether it’s the pandemic, or other issues throughout the country, we have the right people within our organization who are going to help us get through it.