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Getting Ready for the Expanding Scope of Retail Security

Children’s play areas, curb-side pickup, and special in-store events each have unique security issues

Security risks associated with retail operations expand as stores get into the “experience” business. Furniture retailers RH and West Elm are both reportedly getting into hoteling, for example, and Toys“R”Us is making a comeback but with a new idea to lure customers by offering play centers for kids. These new business ideas—expanding offerings, providing enhanced store experiences, creating “product playgrounds”—expand the potential for harm. Traditional store safety and security is very different from running a hotel security operation or a day care center.

Children’s Play Areas
It is becoming common for family-centric retailers to pitch their stores as places where children can enjoy a range of activities and not just places where parents can buy things. Camp, for example, bills itself as a “family experience store” and offers rotating experiences where kids can do crafts, learn camp songs, and engage in other activities. Children, however, pose a significant and unique safety risk, especially as any negative event involving a child is likely to do serious harm to a retailer’s reputation.

A study of security at houses of worship made a similar point. Churches face multiple threats, with burglaries and theft being the most common crime—of cash, musical instruments, sound and audio-visual equipment, computers, and other equipment. Vandalism is also a recurring problem; sadly, even shootings are no longer unprecedented. But although churches face many security risks, for most houses of worship “the most serious risk with the greatest potential consequences involves children,” according to the executive director of the American Crime Prevention Institute in a panel discussion at an ISC West conference.

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Some security recommendations made to churches may now apply to select retailers that provide kids with play spaces and other activities.
• Is there a written child safety and protection policy that align with your current level of exposure to security incidents involving children?
• Is there a policy that requires that two or more staff be present during store-sponsored programs involving children and youth?
• If specific areas are designated for child and youth activity, are they designed such that the areas provide unobstructed visibility into them? Are such areas under video surveillance?
• If children will be left while parents are in other store areas, is there a child-tag system or other child check-in and drop-off procedure?
• Is there a child and youth security training program for employees who will interact with them?
• Are background checks for store employees sufficiently extensive considering the sensitivity of working with children?

Curb-Side Pickup

Lisa Brock

In addition to shrink concerns, new services like curbside pickup require additional safety planning. “That has safety implications. What if it’s raining?” asked Lisa Brock, national director of investigations at Best Buy, during a conference presentation at the NRF Protect conference in June. Brock noted that Best Buy is testing lockers and 24-hour vestibules for pick-up orders.

While efficiency and customer convenience may drive a desire to offer curbside pickup, stores can’t allow ease of pick-up to come at the expense of security to prevent the real risk of vehicle attacks on store fronts. Security leaders should guard against stores removing barriers that offer protection from cars and trucks, such as planters, bollards, and other efforts to keep vehicles away from persons.

Special Store Events
In-store appearances and signings have always been used to attract a crowd, but more stores and shopping centers are now trying to lure potential customers by putting on major events. According to a survey by Certain, 70 percent of retail marketers allocated more money for special events in 2017.

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Events have a unique set of security risks. Many establishments contend with these challenges all the time, including nightclubs, amusement parks, cultural institutions, and sporting venues. But while these venues are practiced in the art of bag checks and the like, retailers holding special events also have to decide how far they want to go in checking bags and persons—and often this sensitive task is put in the hands of individuals with little security training or background.

Security can’t be the only consideration when instituting procedures for physical security checks of visitors to major store events. While keeping harm out is the top priority, retailers need to consider customer complaints, business disruption, and potential lawsuits from visitors and employees when devising and implementing security check procedures.

The following questions—commonly asked by stadiums and concert halls—may also be necessary for some retailers.

Are they prepared to find something? Every associate assigned to check bags or pat down a patron needs general instruction and practical training on what to do if they find something. And not just weapons, they need to be ready for issues they could face, like will staff require a Sikh to remove his turban? If a worker finds a weapon during an event security check, and a bystander gets injured in an ensuing struggle, a lawsuit is almost certain to follow. The ensuing case will likely focus on the amount of instruction the employee received and whether it was adequate. Such a case would be hard for a retailer to win because a claim any argument that an incident was not foreseeable would likely be refuted by the very existence of a security check, which would suggest that the store recognized that the presence of a weapon was foreseeable.

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Are employees or temporary hires prepared emotionally? Employees need to know the mechanics of managing a crowd of visitors—how to do it, what to look for, and what to do if they find something—but there is often an emotional aspect to the task, one that managers should prepare staff to expect. For example, a reporter, working as temporary security in exchange for a ticket to an NFL playoff game, wrote that the experience was substantially different than expected, and that instead of an easy couple of hours of work, the reporter contended with drunken fans and sexually charged remarks. Depending on the nature of an in-store event, retailers may need to warn workers of the potential for hostile remarks or vile language and get them to acknowledge that they understand that exposure to such comments may come with the assignment. If workers don’t receive fair warning, a business may face staff complaints—or even litigation.

Do you provide pre-event notice to patrons of any special security screening they will need to undergo? Retailers should widely communicate security requirements as early and as frequently as possible—on signs, online, in advertisements, and so on—to alert the public of any extra security checks it will perform and what items are prohibited. This will cut down on bottlenecks or confiscation at store or mall entrances, which can lead to hostility and violent events.

This article was originally published in July 2019.

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