Sears Holdings Corporation has taken advantage of digital capabilities by investing in the latest loss prevention technology tools for its LP teams. This account of the early stages of the company’s digital journey remains relevant in 2016 as other retailers implement connected smart devices in their loss prevention departments.
Imagine walking into a store for a visit. As you sip your coffee, you pull up the store’s current performance from your tablet. At a glance, you have all the necessary statistics.
As you enter, the tablet’s GPS identifies your location and sends alerts that require your immediate attention. You identify possible signs of theft, so you pull the security camera feeds and review the footage. A week later, you complete a follow-up visit from two states away via video chat.
Is this a far-fetched dream of a future LP organization? It is not. This was the loss prevention technology environment at Sears Holdings as of 2013.
While our customers are accessing Shop Your Way (SM) special member offers from their mobile devices, our Sears and Kmart loss prevention teams are using similar devices to dynamically access performance rankings, theft statistics, outlier reports, and a vast array of other data, reports, and charts that visually demonstrate the risks and relative “health” of a given store location, district, or region.
As economic and technological landscapes have changed, so has the loss prevention industry. More often, the retail industry in general is being challenged to do more with less. How can we drive profit while mitigating risk and improving performance? Our strategy at Sears Holdings has always been to empower our teams with loss prevention technology that helps them increase efficiency and make informed decisions.
Technology Is a Journey
We started on what we call our “digital journey” over seven years ago with a series of incremental steps aimed at leveraging the emerging loss prevention technology landscape. At the time, we had no idea smart devices were the end game, but we knew that to stay competitive, we needed to be prepared for the future.
Every time we’ve considered implementing new technology, our first step has always been to review our current processes and ask ourselves three questions:
• Can we eliminate this process or task?
• Can we centralize this?
• Can we automate it?
We call this process “task modernization.” From our first web-based applications to our current mobile solutions, our vision has always been to leverage systemic and technological advances that deliver the highest value to the enterprise. This digital journey is not about adding loss prevention technology for technology’s sake; it’s about giving our professionals a competitive advantage in understanding their business and making informed decisions.
The demands of end users have continually exceeded network infrastructures, but as quickly as network providers can meet demands, consumers and
developers create new ones. This cycle of evolution continues throughout the landscape—IP phones have replaced traditional landlines, smartphones have replaced cell phones, online video has replaced video rental stores, e-books have replaced book stores, and we all know what happened to the music industry. Consumers have even connected their homes to control everything from their alarms to their thermostats via smartphone. With so much change in technology, how can the loss prevention industry keep up?
Our first priority has been to invest in data. From collecting data about theft to census data to enhance environmental risk models, our ability to make actionable decisions based on business results, trends and outlier activities consistently results in the greatest payback. Similarly, we constantly challenge ourselves to better manage our data and improve the delivery method to end users. The focus is to make our teams more agile and prepared with actionable information. We’ve always believed that knowledge is power, and our technological investment decisions reflect that philosophy.
We began our journey by transferring our data from spreadsheets and disparate sources to a uniform data storage platform. This paved the way for the establishment of key metrics on our business and a means for developing goals and rating mechanisms for our locations.
Our investment in a business intelligence platform has allowed us to standardize and optimize reporting on loss prevention, such as theft, shrink, labor, and investigations, as well as non-LP-related areas, such as sales, financial, and pricing.
We’ve taken advantage of the explosive growth in mobile computing by equipping our field personnel with iPads, giving them access to data via a quick swipe of a finger that might have required hours to compile in the past.
We invested the better part of a year preparing our infrastructure for the new devices:
• We updated our existing web applications to properly render on the new screens.
• We built iOS applications to truly take advantage of all the capabilities of these devices, such as the accelerometer, GPS, and touch navigation.
• We built mobile device management (MDM) profiles specific to our team’s needs to manage application deployment.
• We invested in a team of professionals who created visually insightful charts and reports that allow field personnel to instantly view trends over time, performance to goal, and performance relative to peers.
Our Loss Prevention Technology Journey Continues
We are busy developing models to help us explain the past and predict the future. We’re able to implement those models through our business intelligence platform to create scoring algorithms, cluster algorithms, and regression-based metrics. This sets the stage for even greater peer-to-peer benchmarking, outlier analysis, and forecasting methodologies.
Giving our field teams the ability to “analyze on the fly” has provided a real return on investment for our LP enterprise since deployment in 2013.
Some key advantages we are realizing include the following:
• Store visits that used to take a full day are now completed in a few hours, often allowing managers to visit multiple stores in a day.
• Everyone in the company has access to the same information, allowing for true transparency in reporting and alignment of goals.
• Managers can consistently drive key behaviors by ensuring the most important aspects of performance, such as compliance, meeting notes, and case performance, are covered during every visit.
• Access to store outliers and the ability to dive deeper into results allows our team to work almost exclusively from the iPads.
• Access to our security CCTV allows our teams to easily review video from their mobile devices without having to be in store.
To improve the science of data, we have added statisticians to our team. To enable agility and speed in our product creation, we now have dedicated developers inside our LP organization. To manage our infrastructure and integrate with IT, we have team members with backgrounds in data architecture, project management, and systems. To combat the modern-day thief who wields a computer instead of a lined bag, we have an experienced online fraud team. Our investigators are skilled in SQL and other query tools.
The traditional loss prevention roles within the corporation have changed. Making simplified loss prevention technology available to our field teams involves a complex team of players who spend their day analyzing consumer and criminal behaviors, both in store and online. In 2013, we created new
teams at the corporate level, such as:
• LP Systems and Technology works as our liaison between LP and IT to ensure we are involved in system changes, infrastructure upgrade, and have a voice on new company initiatives, including mobile checkout, loyalty promotions, and so forth.
• LP Business Intelligence works to design and develop new mobile and web applications and reports for our field and corporate users.
• LP Analytics works on researching and developing new performance metrics and predictive models to gain insights from our data and performance.
• e-Commerce/Payment Systems teams are an integral part of investigations, scouring millions of online transactions annually.
The same kinds of transformations are also true for our field teams. Traditional security roles are still vital, but we’ve also adjusted our core competencies to include a digital innovator section. This new section helps us identify competencies, such as forward thinking, early adopters, computer literacy, and systems knowledge.
From our web applications to our mobile solutions, we have always held the belief that when the content experts—in our case, loss prevention—are
responsible for application design, the end user always wins. We currently design and develop our own mobile apps, which have allowed us to reduce the time to deployment considerably. Additionally, having teams who work with loss prevention and safety data daily allows them to build up expertise and anticipate the needs of the end user.
What we have developed thus far should only be considered our beta version. We continually reiterate and refine our existing dashboards and audits to be smarter.
Whether the next LP device innovation takes the form of a wristwatch or some type of virtual heads-up display, it is certain loss prevention technology will continue to evolve. Be prepared to say goodbye to your PC and your laptop. Eventually, tablets will go the way of the VCR, but you can be sure whatever replaces it will be connected and mobile.
After all, it’s a journey, not a destination.
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated February 16, 2016.