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How Store Design Impacts Sales and Losses

People are human; we’re prone to predictable behavior. Our behavior is in partly shaped by our individual characteristics and in part by our environment. Store designers know this, so they strive to influence in-store behavior with environmental design. As loss prevention and asset protection professionals, we should be part of this environmental design process. But first, we need to become better versed in interior space design theories and research.

Sell More, Lose a Lot Less

Hopefully, most store visitors are there to shop and buy, but as we know all too well, many also steal, rob, or defraud us. But since retail stores exists to sell products, that’s the place to start in designing interior space.

Shopper intentions and behavior can fall into two broad categories—exploring and habitual shopping—but in reality, shoppers tend to flip between the two. Store layouts need to accommodate both habitual and exploring customers in three broad areas—in-store, in‑aisle, and at shelf.

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Habitually moving to find needed items means helping the customer quickly find what they seek. Likewise, the exploring shopper should be inspired to try your other merchandise. Signs help, but the store layout itself is critical. Grouping like products in separate or u-shaped configurations brings product to life and can boost selling for both types of shoppers.

The same principles hold true for asset protection. Store layout and cues (total store, in-aisle and at shelf) can influence the likelihood and success of theft attempts. Determined and incidental shoplifters notice or are otherwise enabled by poor layouts, including infamous “blind spots” in corners and high-shelf areas. Tight-fit, unkempt, and confusing layouts depress good shoppers, make buying difficult and enable store theft.

Getting Started

As a starting point for incorporating design‑based security into retail settings, the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) team has developed the following step-by-step guide. The points shown are designed to assist retailers in developing a tailored approach to selling and protecting their products by maximizing the loss preventive qualities of natural space.

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Conduct a Thorough Assessment of Needs

What are the store’s major zones? Identify:

  • Blind spots—areas in which surveillance is inefficient.
  • High-risk zones—areas prone to theft or crime, such as areas with “hot” items.
  • Workstation—areas staffed by employees (what percent of time?).
  • Active zones—areas frequently populated by staff and customers.
  • Inactive zones—areas that have few hot items and little activity.
  • Transitional zones—areas in which one type of zone meets or overlaps another.

Who are the store’s users? Identify:

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  • Normal users—people you want in the store (customers).
  • Abnormal users—people you want to keep out of the store (criminals).
  • Observers—those whose presence supports the store’s functions (employees, delivery people, and regular buying customers).

What do we want to protect? Identify:

  • Hot items—location, presentation, exposure, attractiveness
  • Most vulnerable or high-risk areas of the store (also exits)
  • High-risk procedures or operations

Who are we primarily protecting against?

  • External shoplifters
  • Employee theft
  • Robbers

How has the loss of these items affected the store?

  • Reduced profits
  • Customer dissatisfaction resulting from lack of stock

What types of security measures are already in place, and how effective are they?

  • Security control during and after hours
  • Personnel policies, procedures, and screening
  • Surveillance—via natural means (employees and shoppers) or technical means (video cameras)
  • Access control of entries and exits
  • Electronic detection devices
  • Protocols for dealing with theft events
  • Identification, tagging, and tracking of products
  • Security measures in parking lot and around site

Implement Loss Prevention Strategies

Provide clear border definitions to high-risk areas

  • Assisting employees in visually identifying high-risk areas improves surveillance and may decrease crime.

Encourage community interaction in the store

  • Providing services to the public such as flu shots or health guidance for targeted users will attract normal users and observers.

Create gathering areas in unsafe zones

  • Consider a coffee station or cosmetics consultant—congregating shoppers can increase natural surveillance.

Place safe activities in unsafe locations

  • Facilitate customer traffic flow through hidden areas

Place unsafe activities in safe locations

  • Place restrooms in more visible areas to monitor activity

Use variations in lighting

  • Providing dimmer light in low-risk areas and brighter light in high-risk areas could deter crime.

Create territorial identity

  • Establishing smaller “territories” within a larger store may increase an offender’s fear of being caught.
  • Coordinating operations management with territories can lead employees to have a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for their assigned area.

Redesignate the use of space to create perception of risk

  • Locating a noisy, high-traffic area near hot items may cause potential criminals to feel too vulnerable and exposed to steal.

Redesign space to increase natural surveillance

  • Create clear lines of sight throughout the store by using low or specially angled gondolas, shelves, and racks whenever possible.
  • Test the use of clear or mirrored fixture materials to enhance visibility.
  • Position employee workstations to allow maximum surveillance, and position point-of-sale systems to enable employees to watch the area while ringing up purchases.
  • Allow both employees and consumers the ability to see as far as possible to increase offenders’ perception of risk.
  • Keep in mind that the perception of surveillance may deter criminals as much as actual surveillance.

Overcome distance and isolation

  • Eliminate blind spots—position them within lines of sight or adjacent to an active, safe zone.
  • Use mechanical surveillance in areas where natural surveillance is difficult.

Evaluate and Monitor Results

  • Implement design strategies individually, choosing approaches that address specific weaknesses in design or layout.
  • Observe changes in the ways employees, customers, and offenders interact with the space.
  • Use recorded video footage, employee and manager interviews, and work with recent shoplifters, as well as review key item sales and loss differences to review behavior changes.
  • Monitor the results of these changes, whether desired or undesired.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of each step before moving on with implementation of new strategies.

Relative Assessment

At the LPRC, we are using this evolving score sheet to evaluate the impact of design and other protective efforts. While not yet complete, objective and subjective criteria enhance relative evaluations of competing concepts.

Marketing

The fixture, process, system, or area (program) supports the selling of key merchandise by creating awareness of and excitement around high‑margin, high-revenue products and their co-sellers.

Shopability

The program helps consumers easily and quickly find, access, and purchase merchandise.

Atmospherics

The program creates positive consumer emotions, including attraction, comfort, arousal, pleasure, and safety.

Execution

The design and construction of the program supports employee use and maintenance (efficiency and compliance).

Asset Protection

The program protects merchandise and other assets by reducing criminal motives, reducing opportunities for crime, and increasing a sense of risk of detection for crime attempts.

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