What will we do when there are no longer brick and mortar retailers left for us to shop? Some of you may think this is an extreme prediction, but, unless things change dramatically in the way we manage crime and criminals, it may very well be the reality of our future.
If you were a retailer, large or small, and you were dealt the blow of the pandemic, and survived, and then had to deal with the aftermath of shipping and distribution struggles, you may think that things can’t possibly get worse. And then, the wrath of ongoing organized retail crime raises its ugly head.
For all intent and purposes, organized retail crime (defined as crime committed for commerce by organized groups of individuals working together in a resell enterprise) has existed and thrived over the years. Many retailers have dedicated resources working internally on ORC within their LP groups. While leading the The Home Depot, we began the ORC task force, and it is still in existence today. The rash of smash and grab robberies that you are seeing playing out in the news are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to ORC operations. These recent incidents seem to have a spontaneous air to them; dozens of criminal associates hatch a plan to overrun a retailer and grab everything possible in less than one minute. However, these acts are getting bolder, more brazen, larger, and more coordinated efforts are being seen. What started in California has now been replicated in Chicago and other metropolitan areas, and I predict will continue the wave into most centralized shopping venues—unless it is stopped now.
Why, suddenly, has this threat surfaced on our radar? It is the result of recent protests and looting combined with opportunity. I am sure many criminals have discovered that you don’t need a social event to protest to raid and launch a theft assault on any retailer. The odds are in your favor for success, and in many jurisdictions, the courts and the very laws established to dissuade these types of crimes are the cause. In San Francisco, you can casually walk into any retailer, steal up to $950 in merchandise, walk out, and if you are caught, you will be issued a misdemeanor citation—no different than if you had just been caught jaywalking on your way to the heist. Read that again, and put yourself in the retailer’s shoes. Walk in, take a 70-inch TV, and walk out with a citation.
How can deterrence—which is why we have laws in the first place—be effective when the courts have neutered law enforcement’s ability to protect retailers and other business owners? It is as if those who craft the laws have determined that retailers make too much profit, and hence should be responsible for the criminals’ take. It is evident that they themselves have never run a retail business or been responsible for protecting profits. We know that retailers operate on razor thin margins to begin with, and shrink is a huge factor to bottom line profitability even in good times—let alone when the odds are stacked against retailers with the lack of enforcement and protection.
What is the solution? I have been asked this question dozens of times in the past few months, and it’s not an easy one to answer, because there is no one answer. I advise my retail clients as part of a complex security program to do things to create barriers and stop easy ingress and egress—slow down traffic, but not stifle it. In areas where the risk is higher and the product more expensive, it may require a secured facility with limited and staggered ingress. Additional cameras with analytics that can help alert to a potential mass gathering and help identify suspects and vehicles will aid in the prosecution—if prosecution is an option.
Using off-duty security and police officers is another recommendation, although all this comes as a cost to doing business. However, if effectively deployed, multiple layered measures of security can be effective in being a soft target and providing a better chance that you won’t be hit. Cost for security in most instances will outweigh continued losses. That’s what statistics show, and I know after doing this for all these years that a well-defined and deployed security platform will work and save bottom line profitability. You need a comprehensive security program with multiple layers of defensibility and tactics. It’s not just slapping a band-aid on the problem—it’s a complex challenge that requires an equally well-developed security network for defensibility.
Then we have the issue of the weak to non-existent laws that have been placed on the books in many municipalities. In the past, retail crime has been seen as victimless. What a shame that those elected to defend our way of existence can choose to allow business owners to suffer these losses. It is time to take a stand and do your part to let your community know that no longer will soft laws and a lack of prosecution be the rule of the day.
One day you will realize that all the retailers you were accustomed to shopping have shuttered, and moved to an online presence to secure their existence. By then it will be too late to turn the tide. It has begun, the warning shots have been fired. We now know that we are under attack, and we must do everything in our power to stop this revolution in its tracks.
Organized retail crime is not just an inconvenience, it is a threat to our way of life.