Experienced, organized, and professional shop thieves have long ago identified how to defeat what they view as rather predictable electronic article surveillance system technologies. Their habits and techniques are well advertised on YouTube and available in published books sold on Amazon. Given this, the primary target for EAS technologies should arguably be to deter the opportunist thief as opposed to the committed criminal.
Understanding opportunistic thieves is important and relevant to loss prevention managers because potentially, in the right circumstances, they can make up the majority of those trying to steal from retail stores. In fact, I heard a respected industry expert speculate that 10 percent of those who visit a retail store could be potential thieves.
In this respect, academic research is helpful; it suggests that there is a crime continuum whereby those presented with the right opportunity are highly likely to engage in a wide range of criminal endeavor.
To test this theory, let me ask you a sensitive question: have you broken the law this month? If you drive a car and have broken the speed limit, you have indeed broken the law and behaved dishonestly. But before you committed this crime, you almost certainly made a quick assessment, asking yourself four key questions:
1. What is the risk of being caught speeding? (You thought low, right?)
2. What is my level of motivation? (Were you late for that meeting again?)
3. What is the level of difficulty to do it? (Just press your right foot down a bit harder?)
4. What is the extent to which I fear the possible consequences? (You thought low, right?)
You therefore decided to break the law and speed along the road as well as along the crime continuum! In a similar fashion, before thieves steal, they will typically ask these same questions. And while the retailer can have little impact on motivation, the degree of difficulty (most retailers don’t like missing out on the impulse sales they get from making the items available for self-selection), and the impact of sanctions, they can do something about increasing the perception of the risk of being caught.
For most retailers, amplifying the perception that electronic article surveillance will increase the risk of being caught is therefore the big improvement idea, but it requires the following points to be considered.
Increase Compliance. How often have you visited a store, looked at a shelf, and seen that only some of the at-risk (hot) products have been protected with an EAS device? How could stores improve compliance? More audits? More training? A clearer direction on what to tag? Increasing the percentage of products that are tagged before arriving at the store? Removing the opportunity for stores to apply any tags or devices at the store completely?
Increase Risk Communication. Retailers could request that all products that have a EAS tag inside should have a statement on the outside such as “security protected.” In the same way, devices such as hard tags, spider wraps, keeper cases, and soft tags applied in-store could all have the words “security protected” displayed to help amplify the perception of risk. Equally, checkouts, self-scan devices, and the EAS pedestals themselves can all be leveraged to amplify risk. For example, a U.S. retailer is now placing public-view monitors over the store exits, and when an electronic article surveillance system alarm is activated, the screen shows the image of the shopper setting off the alarm with the message “security recording in progress” prominently displayed.
Improve Meaningful Alarm Response Rate. If you work in the loss prevention team, when was the last time you spent a day working alongside the store associate or third-party security guard responsible for the handling of alarm activations? This is an excellent way to gain insights into how the electronic article surveillance system is working on a daily basis. Another way is to use your video system to gain valuable insights into root cause of those alarms, as well as an assessment of the response rate.
For benchmarking purposes, you may want to consider these data points from a study by Hayes and Blackwood, which is based on audits in 320 USA food, drug, and mass merchandising retailers:
- Only 60 percent of EAS pedestals were able to read products with a soft tag inside.
- In 91 percent of stores visited, there was no form of acknowledgement by any person in the store when an alarm was activated.
- Of the 9 percent of occasions when there was an acknowledgement, on just 5 percent of those occasions did a member of staff respond to an alarm in what was considered a “meaningful” way, such as the checking of a till receipt or identifying the product that triggered the alarm.
What this data suggests is that the odds of a thief even getting asked about the reasons for alarm activation are generally very remote. If they were to steal one item every day for 1,000 days, the odds suggest that they would get asked to help identify the cause of the alarm on just under three visits or about once per year!
The most logical starting point would be to begin with a clear understanding of the reasons for the alarms in the first instance. As a benchmark, UK researchers found that 96 percent of the alarm activations were non-theft. No wonder the alarm response is so low if the system is “crying wolf” to this extent.
To reduce the number and rate of non-theft alarms, the causes need to be better understood. Are the majority of these alarms triggered by shoppers entering or exiting the store? How many can be attributed to a legitimately purchased product not having the tag correctly deactivated? Equally, how many false activations are generated from self-scan transactions compared with staffed checkouts? Once the root causes are exposed, the solutions will become more obvious. In a recent case study, a U.S. home improvement retailer shared how a 50 percent reduction in non-theft alarms was achieved by investing in better deactivation equipment, which in turn generated quantifiable improvements in store productivity.
This article was excerpted from “Where Next for EAS,” which appeared in the July-August 2015 issue of LP Magazine.