New Approaches to Retailing—Online and In-Store

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Vendors Dismayed at Amazon’s Changes to Return Policy

By Bill Turner, LPC

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Most people believe that shopping online is easy and convenient. But most also agree that the one of the biggest issues in online shopping is the inability to touch and feel the product. As a result, items “not as expected” cause online return percentages to be high. And everyone knows that returning items bought online can range from inconvenient, to confusing, to downright scary.

Once again, Amazon has come to the rescue with its recently announced policy of “automatically authorized returns.” This new policy applies to Amazon’s Marketplace sellers and aligns the return policies of these third-party sellers to the current return policy of Amazon-fulfilled product.

Under the new policy, consumers can ship back third-party-fulfilled merchandise to Amazon without contacting the vendor first to work out concerns with the transaction or product prior to a refund being issued. Amazon has also instituted a “returnless refund” policy designed to save sellers time and expense: if an item is small and inexpensive, Amazon will issue a refund—and the seller is forced to just “let the item go” and not get it back.

There has been confusion on the part of the sellers who now think Amazon will force them to simply give away items for free. Many sellers are highly upset and have been very vocal about their dissatisfaction regarding the new policy. Amazon is quick to defend the policy, noting that participation is optional for the seller and actually came about due to numerous requests by vendors. Amazon emphasizes that sellers will enjoy reduced time and cost (if they agree to participate) while making the consumer return experience for many products easier and less complicated.

Many sellers are not convinced. Some have gone so far as to proclaim that Amazon’s new policy will “crush small businesses that fulfill their own orders.” They believe that scammers will take full advantage of the new policy. Time will tell.

As an alternative, sellers always have the option of using Amazon’s in-house fulfillment arm. The new policy goes into effect in October.

This new policy is just another step by Amazon to make online shopping easier for the consumer. Their existing return policy, as outlined below, has always been one of the most customer friendly:

  • The consumer has 30 days from the date of purchase to return items for a full refund.
  • Return labels can be instantly printed using Amazon’s online return center.
  • Amazon pays the return shipping on all domestic orders.
  • It doesn’t matter if the item has been open or used.

Clearly, their policy is very liberal, but Amazon does have some safeguards built in to identify and track abusers. If a customer has extensive returns, their account may be flagged to prevent further returns. But, in typical Amazon fashion, they will send the potential abuser a nice email to let them know before taking any action.

As we have said before, e-commerce will never totally eclipse brick-and-mortar shopping. But Amazon continues to do everything they can to make it easier and easier for consumers to shop online. And it’s working!

Preventing Shoplifting and Theft with…Music?

By Mike Giblin, LPRC

Mike Giblin

As a loss prevention agent in 2017, it’s easy to begin to feel helpless. Many retail environments have shifted to no-touch policies, as jurisdictions push legislation to ease the legal ramifications of shoplifting and theft. If you can’t stop the shoplifter as he’s strolling out your door with your merchandise, and you can’t call the police because the crime is no longer treated seriously, what tools are left in your toolbox?

Through the Zones of Influence initiative, the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) has developed a framework for geo-spatially categorizing opportunities in a retail environment. The goal is to provide awareness and action tools for the store’s LP decision maker in each of the five Zones of Influence. This post outlines Weaponizing Music, one of the most popular action tool concepts explored by the LPRC.

The following research brief describes a study conducted in Australia/New Zealand involving the use of music as a deterrent and repellent of unwanted loiterers and potential wrong-doers. This practice has seen popularity around government buildings, parks, recreation and performance centers, and retail spaces. Cam Connections/Protection-1 has helped the LPRC to engineer and install a Weaponizing Music unit in the Gainesville LPRC Innovation Lab for further testing.

In any decision process, a surprising number of factors are at play. Here, an organization looks at controllable environmental factors of a retail space and how it can influence shoplifting behavior inexpensively and without alienating customers.

Government officials in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, ran a six-month deterrent program meant to stop local youth from nighttime loitering. Barry Manilow music was broadcast through loudspeakers located in a local parking lot every night between 9 pm and midnight on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The logic was to “use music that doesn’t appeal to these people (the youths).” It was very effective.
Other similar studies have tested classical music, with equal success.

Elevation or Relocation?
While effective, what was the effect of this music? Did the youth just relocate to disrupt a different, Manilow-free parking lot? There exists a prevalent belief in our culture that classical music has the ability to enhance an individual. Parents play classical music in their newborn’s crib in the hope that it will tack a few IQ points on. Some may play classical music to older children or adults with the hope that it will cultivate them in a cultural sense. In this case, however, the children’s behavior was not altered, nor was their character seemingly enhanced. They simply scattered and relocated.

The music may have been territorial in nature, marking the lot as off limits, or perhaps establishing the impression of the lot being a controlled area.

The music may have deterred because it was unexpected. Studies show that music that does not match ambiance is off-putting, and may lead to lower satisfaction and increased weariness.

The patrons may have simply disliked the music, in a mechanism similar to administering an electric shock or filling the space with an unpleasant odor.

Implications for Stopping Shoplifting and Theft
Classical music and Barry Manilow seem to be effective deterrents of loitering in empty, outdoor retail spaces. The mechanism responsible for this effect remains generally unknown. Better understanding of this phenomenon is important in order to predict what situations and locations it will be effective in, as well as how it will affect honest customers.

The LPRC is also exploring Mosquito units, which emit an unpleasant, high-pitched tone that only individual’s cochlea below a certain age threshold (~18-25) can detect.

3 Ways Bloomingdale’s Prepares Its Associates for the Worst

By Chad McIntosh

Chad McIntosh

Retail associates aren’t just dealing with customers anymore. Active shooter and terrorist threats are becoming more common. And apprehensions are becoming more dangerous, as suspects often resist and are frequently armed.

At Bloomingdale’s, we take the safety of our people very seriously. The threat landscape in our industry is becoming more dangerous. To keep up, we needed an aggressive strategy. Our goal was to train our associates to deal with these threats confidently on the job, while also keeping them safe in their personal lives.

Here are three proven strategies to ensure associates have the ability to detect and address security threats, while retaining information and staying engaged throughout training.

1. Best-in-Class Strategy and Content
First, we created a Bloomingdale’s playbook for responding to threats. Then we launched a drill at our headquarters in NYC and had it vetted by the FBI and NYPD. We also used information provided by EHS and the Department of Homeland Security to build our content. The content included ‘run, hide, and fight’ tactics, as well tips on how to always stay aware of exits and entrances.

2. Social Media Monitoring
Social media websites are a crucial tool for monitoring security threats. People post videos and photos in real time about what’s happening around them. We use this to our advantage for early warning of threats. We also hired a third-party company to monitor social media for specific keywords and phrases. We aligned our training content to these potential threats, so associates were updated immediately and knew how to react.

3. Continuous Training and Reinforcement
We deliver ongoing associate training on our employee knowledge platform, provided by Axonify. Unlike a traditional learning management system, we are able to continually deliver learning and assess the level of knowledge and confidence of our associates, which is key to ensuring their safety. This continuous and fluid way of training helps us ensure they don’t forget anything. We also train our detectives on apprehension and de-escalation techniques.
This micro-learning approach—delivering small, bite-sized chunks of learning—has fostered a knowledgeable, informed, and confident staff. And because the small information chunks are manageable, frequent, and readily available, we boast 90 percent voluntary participation. The platform has saved us about $10 million over the last few years.

In the face of certain threats, speed is critical. Using the platform, we can push out information immediately. In the wake of ISIS attacks on Paris, threats were made against NYC targets, including Times Square. We were able to deliver active shooter refresher training immediately to all of our associates on duty near Times Square, calming their fears by providing critical advice on how to respond if need be.

It’s difficult as an organization to provide the right level of training and information, and the right reinforcement of that information. With this approach, I know when I go home at the end of the day, we’ve done our best to prepare our associates.

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