Why Protective Countermeasures Work for Retail Theft Control

security camera, retail theft control

Judgment is everything for a loss prevention decision-maker. Good choices are a lot easier with good information—hence the Loss Prevention Research Council‘s aim towards evidence-based loss prevention.

In earlier columns, I’ve discussed how critical it is to accurately diagnose the causes and dynamics of a problem to properly treat it using techniques like the Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Evaluation (SARA) problem-solving process.

In this column, we mention how it is equally important to be able to align and describe how a selected protective countermeasure or treatment actually works to affect a problem.

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We want to be able to describe an LP effort’s mode and mechanisms of action when it comes to retail theft control.

Consider this. In medicine, a nurse or physician’s assistant carries out a doctor’s orders. But it is the doctor who has had extensive training in understanding in great detail how a problem occurs and the mechanisms of action of prescribed solutions. That level of training leads to much more precise and cost-effective solutions and helps avoid dangerous and costly side effects.

As we collectively raise the bar in this industry from relatively imprecise decisions to highly informed ones, we are in part talking about decision-makers moving up to the physician level. LP executives will increasingly have a much greater and deeper understanding of problem dynamics and how well loss prevention solutions actually work.

Today, led by a growing number of LP executives, the Loss Prevention Foundation, LP Magazine, FMI, NRF, RILA, and others are coordinating in different ways with the LPRC to use research to provide LP managers the critical process and impact data they deserve.

Retail Theft Control Modes and Mechanisms of Action

As part of our research team’s efforts to support retailers, we have attempted to carefully describe how certain solutions actually affect theft attempts. By knowing how and why retail theft control solutions work, we can better determine ways in which we can make improvements.

Our research ranges from using large datasets to extensive in-store offender interviews to randomized controlled trials (RCTs). In the case of offender interviews, we are increasingly running subjects through stores that we have specially set up in order to determine what countermeasures offenders tend to notice (see), recognize (get), and respect (fear). We can then compare which interventions work best, and how we can boost intervention performance by “tweaking” our deployment and execution.

A huge part of this process is thinking about how these protective treatments actually work.

We generally categorize treatment actions into overall modes of action and then describe the specific mechanisms of action of these modes.

Modes of action are therefore broader and usually mean the countermeasure makes stealing harder for a thief, appear riskier, or makes theft less rewarding. Some treatments can have more than one mode and even multiple mechanisms of action.

Below are examples of some LP treatments to which we have exposed offenders in our CVS StoreLab location at one time or another, as well as those we have evaluated in larger-field RCTs with multiple retailers.

In this list, I have described how we believe the treatments work in the real world to discourage or disrupt offenders.

ePVM Treatment. Enhanced public view monitors have visual and aural enhancements added to increase the likelihood offenders will detect, recognize, and be seriously concerned about the deterrent measure.

The mode of action, in this case, is centered on increasing the perceived risk of detection, rapid response, and detainment with serious formal and informal sanctions. The specific risk mechanism follows this scenario—if the ePVM is seen and recognized, offenders might believe they’re being currently monitored, and their face will be recognized and directly tied to a specific crime event (what, where, when).

Protective Fixture Treatment. The first mode of action here is focused on increasing the effort required to access or remove an asset. Protective fixtures increase needed tasks, require special knowledge or tools that increase the required time, force or strength, and danger to steal merchandise.

Using blade fixtures as an example, there are several specific effort mechanisms of action in play. First, some offenders perceive the blades are locked in the protective fixture. Second, the fixture slows selection rates down by requiring a sequence of movements to select and remove each pack, adding delay time to select each blade pack. Third, the selection sequence requires two hands to operate the mechanism while removing the blade pack, making item concealment more difficult.

The second mode of action involves increasing the perceived risk of detection, rapid response, and detainment. The specific risk mechanism is the ratchet noise made when the blade shelf is opened to access a pack, which the subject believes may notify others of the protected item’s access.

The third mode of action is focused on benefit denial by limiting the quantity and possibly damaging the asset, thus reducing the value to the offender for personal use or converting to cash. The mechanism of action here is the fact that the protective fixture slows selection rates down by requiring a sequence of movements to select and remove individual items, which delays the time required to select each blade pack, potentially reducing the quantity of items able to be taken in a “safe” period of time.

Annunciator Treatment. The mode of action is centered on increasing risk. There are two specific risk mechanisms in play. First, when a subject moves in front of the product or pulls on a fixture handle, an annunciator behind them generates a human voice greeting to the product and brand, so the subject must deal with a possible privacy threat from behind. Second, the subject knows that the annunciator voice notifies others that someone is accessing the protected area.

If-Found Sticker Treatment. The mode of action for this treatment is centered around benefit denial. The mechanism of action involves placement of a sticker on merchandise that is designed to create offender concern. The sticker evokes a threat: potential fences and public buyers will not desire stolen goods with a difficult-to-remove sticker asking anyone seeing this item in any store other than the one noted on the sticker to notify that retailer using a toll-free number.

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) Warning Sticker Treatment. Again, the mode of action is focused on increasing risk. The mechanism of action is a sticker designed to create concern in offenders that unauthorized removal of the marked item will result in a loud alarm at the exit, which would likely prompt employee response and potential apprehension.

This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated September 13, 2018. 

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