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Protective Signage Research Seeks to Determine If Signage Impacts Theft and Customer Behavior

Protective signage is designed to credibly warn offenders that their contemplated criminal act will be quickly detected and seriously responded to. Signage can also prime or reinforce other interventions like CCTV or EAS.

In addition to the quantitative analysis of the impact of various product protection interventions on shrink and sales in a set of large retail stores, the LPRC research team conducted interviews with twenty-six randomly selected store customers to obtain their perceptions of prevention signage interventions.

The purpose of customer interviews is to better understand their awareness and understanding of each intervention; their likely reaction to the interventions; their understanding that signage and other tactics can reduce theft, allowing desirable merchandise to be more easily accessed for scrutiny and purchase, rather than kept locked or behind the counter; their likely willingness to purchase signage-protected products; and the impact of the signage treatment on their perceived personal safety in the store.


Customer Awareness of Security Measures. The first question in the customer survey asked the customers what security measures they noticed in the location in the store where the interviews took place, to note whether shoppers perceived the signage as well as other deployed treatments. More than four-fifths (84.6%) of interviewed customers noticed the special signage in this section in the store. About three-fifths of the customers noticed “banding or packaging solutions” (61.5%) or “protective display fixtures” (61.5%) were present.

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Customer Reactions to the Sign. Customers who did not notice the sign were shown the security measure, and all customers were asked for their immediate reactions to the sign. Generally, respondents offered positive or neutral initial remarks about the sign indicating electronic theft protection. Many noted the theft-deterrent benefits of the sign and indicated it made them feel like the store was doing something about shoplifting. Several respondents said the sign made them feel more “safe.”

Most of the negative reactions to the sign related to feeling nervous or worried about being watched or about interacting with products that are electronically protected. Follow-up questions indicated only 6 of 26 respondents felt at all worried or anxious about being “watched” by surveillance of some type. Nine respondents felt somewhat concerned about their “privacy” in a public place. Only one of the customers mentioned electronic product protection was worrisome, while three mentioned they didn’t feel safe or secure when thinking about the sign.

Customer Reactions to Wording and Images on the Sign. Customers were next asked, “What do you think of the wording and images on the sign?” A series of follow-up questions probed for customers’ perceptions about whether the sign was clear or confusing; whether the sign distracted or annoyed them, or if they don’t really notice it; and whether the sign changed their shopping experience in any way. Two of the twenty-six respondents indicated the sign’s wording and images were unclear or confusing in any way, and none indicated not understanding the sign. About 30 percent of the respondents (N=8) said they didn’t really notice the sign, and a similar number (N=7, 27%) said the sign did not distract them. While one respondent indicated the sign “draws me to look at the items a little,” ten reported the sign distracted them in some way, or they found it “annoying.” Despite this, only two of the customers we talked to said the sign changed their shopping experience in any way; both indicated they would be less likely to purchase items because of the sign. The other twenty-four respondents noted that the sign didn’t change their shopping.

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Customer Opinions on Changes to the Sign. Customers were next asked, “Do you think the sign could or should be changed in any way to make it more effective?” Three interviewed subjects (11.5%) indicated the sign could or should be changed in any way to make them more effective. These three respondents were asked to indicate the ways in which the sign could or should be changed. Their responses appear below.

“If you steal, we will know.”

“It should be gone.”

“Make more of them (signs).”

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Customer Beliefs about Truthfulness of the Sign. Customers were next asked: “Do you believe there are actually nearby electronic theft-protection devices?” More than two-thirds (69.2%) indicated they did believe there was electronic theft protection on the products in this location in the store. Less than one-tenth (7.7%) did not believe the products in this location were electronically protected, while nearly one-quarter (23.1%) said they didn’t know if the products were electronically protected. The two customers indicating they did not believe the products are in fact electronically protected were asked to indicate why they felt this way. Their responses appear below:

“Because it’s not needed.”

“Too many other deterrents.”

Customer Preference for Signage or Locked Displays. The customers were next read the following statement: “Use of signs and electronic theft protection as a security measure allows the store to make the product available to you on the shelf, rather than keeping it behind a counter or in a locked display that requires you to ask for employee assistance to access the product.” Customers were then asked if they preferred this type of security measure to keeping products behind a counter or in a locked display case. Half (53.9%) indicated they did prefer signs and electronic theft protection to having products behind a counter or in a locked display.

Impact of Signs on Customer Shopping Behavior. The customers were next asked if the electronic theft-protection sign would make them more likely, equally as likely, or less likely to purchase the product at this store. A third (30.8%) indicated the sign would make them more likely to buy the product at this store, while more than two-fifths (42.3%) said equally likely, and one-quarter (26.9%) said less likely.

The seven customers who indicated that they would be less likely to buy the product at the store with the sign were next asked, “Would you prefer to buy the product at a store without signs indicating electronic theft protection?” Three of them said yes, while two said no.

Customer Perceptions of Store Safety with Signage. Customers were next asked if the electronic theft-protection signs made them feel more safe, equally as safe, or less safe than they might otherwise feel in the store. One-half (50.0%) of the customers we interviewed indicated the sign made them feel more safe than they might otherwise feel in the store.

Due to the relatively inexpensive signage production and deployment costs compared to their influence, our University of Florida and Loss Prevention Research Council teams continue to work with online, outdoor, and indoor priming signage dosing options, including symbology, colors, size, unit placement, numbers per store, constant slight changes to maintain freshness, and aural and visual priming cues to boost the treatment’s noticeability and credibility.

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