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Ramifications of Retail’s Upheaval

Sponsored by the National Retail Federation

Since last June’s National Retail Federation (NRF) loss prevention conference, there have been a lot of changes—and not all of them have been good. Attendees to this year’s NRF PROTECT conference, June 27 – 28 in Washington DC, will be learning how to navigate in retail and loss prevention environments that are more complicated, dangerous, and mission critical than at any time in recent years.

Bob Moraca

Troubling Trends in Retail Violence. Data collected by the National Retail Federation, via its National Retail Security Survey conducted in conjunction with the University of Florida and its survey on organized retail crime, reveal a disturbing trend: The job of loss prevention is becoming increasingly dangerous. “Both studies over the last 18 months have shown an increase in aggressive retail criminals,” said NRF’s Vice President of Loss Prevention Bob Moraca, CPP, CFE, MBA.

In years past, organized retail crime (ORC) gangs—even when working as a mob of a dozen boosters—would “want to leave in 45 to 50 seconds and would typically show no real propensity to commit violence,” explained Moraca. In just the last 18 months, however, retailers have noticed a difference in these offenders. In one NRF survey, a whopping 97 percent of retailers said they’ve seen an increase in violence associated with ORC.

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“More and more, these criminals are coming in and menacing employees, pushing and shoving customers, shouting at everyone to get down on the floor, and those kinds of things,” Moraca said. “We haven’t seen this type of violence in a long time.”

The link between violence and loss prevention suggests several possible action items may be warranted, including a review of training programs for store associates to see if today’s level of risk matches the instruction they receive in communicating with potentially violent individuals, conflict management, and personal safety awareness. It also indicates the need to enhance the skill of loss prevention staff to respond effectively to many types of volatile situations, be it violence from ORC gangs, an aggressive or abusive customer, or a dispute between shoppers inside a store.

Indeed, there is both anecdotal evidence and data to suggest that the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society is weakening. Shouting, cursing, name-calling, and other inappropriate behavior by members of the public seem to be increasing—and they can spark a physical altercation if not effectively handled. So retail organizations need to examine whether deteriorating societal behavior requires expanding employee and LP staff training on dealing with difficult individuals.

LP Solutions

In response to the rising tide of violence, NRF PROTECT 2017 features a new offering, its “Emerging Leaders Workshop: Verbal Defense and Influence.” The half-day interactive workshop will teach asset protection and loss prevention leaders at regional and local levels ways to effectively communicate with difficult people under stressful situations, and how to redirect behavior with words. Although it may seem straightforward, an effective response to an escalating situation requires specific skills, knowledge, and practice. These include how to:

  • Identify threatening gestures or other body language suggesting anger;
  • Identify your conflict triggers and maintain your emotional equilibrium;
  • Avoid behavior that individuals may interpret as aggressive; and
  • Minimize actions that could set off the conflict triggers of others.

Presented by experts at Vistelar, a conflict prevention and management solutions provider, the workshop will help put LP professionals on equal footing with their peers in law enforcement. “[Vistelar] took that law enforcement model of verbal Judo and transformed it to work in private industry,” Moraca explained. “They’ve helped us put this course together to teach how LP can keep control of situations, de-escalate, and prevent violence.”

A New Mandate for Cyber Risk. Although not entirely new, the need for loss prevention to better understand the world of cyber risk has certainly accelerated in the last year. LP practitioners are keenly aware of the trend but may not always be confident that they know exactly what to do about it, Moraca suggested. “The LP team and IT need to be tied at the hip on this issue. They don’t need to know how to do each other’s job, but they do need to know what each other does and what they can do for one another,” he said. This foundation is key to adequately defining roles and responsibilities around cyber issues and for effectively responding to incidents. “Pre-planning for different scenarios is critical,” Moraca added.

To help retailers get ready, cyber expert Kimberly Peretti, CISSP, Alston & Bird LLP, is delivering a keynote address at NRF PROTECT titled “Preparing for Cyber’s Evolution: Collaboration, Cooperation, and Risk Mitigation.” As a top prosecutor for the Department of Justice, Peretti led the successful 2007 case against notorious TJX data hacker Albert Gonzalez, and she will detail how groups within a retail organization should work together to develop strategies for risk mitigation and response.

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Surviving the Shifting Sands of Change. Today’s retail environment is complex, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. And loss prevention practitioners, and the LP industry as a whole, must continually adapt. If not, individuals will find their career paths limited, and the industry itself could find itself pushed to the background.

LP professionals must stay on top of the many dramatic changes underway—in how people shop, in the strategies employed to attract customers, with in-store LP technology, and in the risks and threats we face. Succeeding in such an environment requires an ability to change course when necessary, to collaborate effectively, and to respond well under pressure. These are all skills that Peyton Manning has demonstrated in both his career as a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and as a businessman. Manning will share his keys to succeeding in changing times in NRF PROTECT’s closing keynote—“The Goalposts of Leadership are Shifting: Are You?”

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