Retail Technology: The Intersection of Loss Prevention and Sustainability

Retail crime is surging across the US. While shrink has always been an issue, the recent holiday season saw an unprecedented spike in theft, bringing it to a level that, according to some experts, now costs retailers 2-3 percent of their total sales, as opposed to 0.7–1 percent prior to the pandemic. But retail theft also has an often-unseen impact beyond damaging revenue and the customer experience. It also negatively affects the environment, from increased greenhouse emissions to water pollution to more trash in landfills.

This is because restocking shoplifted items requires retailers to pack and ship replacements, which means more cardboard, more packing materials, and more carbon emissions and fossil fuel usage by delivery vehicles (to put that into perspective, consider that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by retailers occurs during transport). What’s more, if a consumer finds that the item they wanted to purchase isn’t available, they’ll go elsewhere to purchase it—meaning even more carbon emissions and fossil fuel usage.

In short, the simple act of shoplifting an item can have a butterfly effect across the entire retail ecosystem. So what role do loss prevention technologies play in mitigating that impact? As it turns out, the answer goes well beyond just preventing theft.

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Preventing Loss—and Environmental Damage

The primary way loss prevention solutions lessen environmental impact is by impeding theft. Publicly visible solutions, like pedestal systems, RFID tags, and public-view monitors, deter theft by making it clear that store premises are protected. More advanced video solutions can help associates and loss prevention officers identify suspicious behavior and intervene before theft occurs.

But today’s truly innovative loss prevention solutions go beyond theft mitigation. Makers of leading loss prevention solutions also optimize the environmental impact of the solutions themselves, not just the thefts they prevent.

For example, at Sensormatic Solutions, our latest generation of electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems use 50 percent less power than previous models, thanks in large part to the “power save” mode that engages based on time or traffic. Meanwhile, our cloud-based loss prevention platform, Shrink Management as a Service (SMaaS), monitors, manages, and remotely services connected EAS systems. This enables our team to respond faster and provide remote troubleshooting—resulting in fewer on-site visits, which means fewer trucks on the road (and potentially fewer stolen items out the door).

Likewise, our visual source tags recirculation (VSTR) initiative, as detailed in our new white paper on sustainability, helps reduce plastic waste and industrial power and water use through recycling our RFID tags. Once tags are removed from items post-purchase, they’re returned en masse to the warehouse by the same truck that just delivered the store’s merchandise—further reducing unnecessary truck routes.

Tags are then checked for quality, cleaned, and re-certified using the most environmentally friendly methods, including green electricity. When, after many repeated applications, these tags reach the end of their lives, they’re recycled via recirculation sites that are ISO 14001 certified. We’re proud to report that 90 percent of retailers recycle their tags. Thanks to this high level of retailer participation, the program has accomplished the following since its inception:

  • 11.4 billion tags have been recirculated
  • 175.8M pounds of plastic has been recycled from tags
  • Over 280,000 MWH of electricity was saved—which amounts to 26,000 homes’ annual usage
  • 260,000 metric tons of CO2 discharge was avoided

A Call to Action

Loss prevention teams may be just one part of the overall retail ecosystem, but they—and the technology manufacturers that supply them—play an outsized role in mitigating the environmental impact of modern retail.

Through innovations and initiatives like the ones mentioned above, and by making sustainability a focus throughout the product development lifecycle, retailers and retail technology providers can increase the impact their solutions have—not just on stores and communities, but the world around us all.

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