Loss Prevention: How to Protect Your Store from Potential Theft
“I use my money to purchase these products so that I can sell them. You might as well come into my home and steal something out of my living room.” – Ginger Steele, Little Black Box Lingerie.
by Libby Dowd
Shoplifting means more than just a financial loss. For Ginger Steele, owner of Little Black Box Lingerie in Lewisburg, WV, it’s also a very personal issue. “It’s infuriating because I’m a small business owner,” she says. “Everything in here is mine. I use my money to purchase these products so that I can sell them. You might as well come into my home and steal something out of my living room.” Recently, Steele was helping a customer at the cash wrap who intentionally knocked a basket of small lotions onto the floor with her purse. “She immediately dropped to the floor to pick them up and I came around the counter to help her out, but I could tell by the way she was acting that something wasn’t right,” says Steele. After the customer left, Steel noticed that several of the bottles were missing. “Because the basket is in front of me all day long, I know what’s in it,” she says. “She walked right out the door with them.”
Similar incidents are happening to retailers large and small all over the country. According to the National Retail Security Survey, $34.5 billion was lost to shoplifting, employee theft, paperwork errors and supplier fraud in 2011. “Retail theft continues to plague the industry, with billions of dollars of merchandise walking out of the store every day without ever bing paid for,” says National Retail Federation vice president of Loss Prevention, Rich Mellor. You don’t have to sit back while your inventory is taken from you. There are ways you can protect yourself from theft—from improving your customer service to investing in new security equipment.
Read on to learn how you can create a foolproof loss prevention plan for your store.
Build a Good Defense
The best way to prevent shoplifting from taking place in your store is through good customer service. “Shoplifters want anonymity,” says Garth Gasse, Director of Asset Protection at the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “By engaging each guest in a retail store, lingerie retailers can best protect against loss.” When Samual Dufour, owner of Teaz N Pleaz in Fair Oaks and South Lake Tahoe, CA, sees a suspicious customer he approaches them and offers to help. “Someone there to do no good is going to be put off by it,” he says. He never tells a customer that he is the owner, but rather that his manager have sent him over to assist. “I say, ‘My manager says I’m not doing a good job and I have to help you,’” he adds. “Then I point out the cameras and tell them I’m being observed.”
Above: Teaz N Pleaz’s owner Samual Dufour utilizes security cameras to protect his store and leverages social media to seek help and warn other retailers.
The ability to see your entire shop is another good way to protect yourself from theft. For small shops, this is much easier to do. “My shop is 1,300 square feet. That’s not huge, but I can stand at the front of my shop and see all the way to the back with little interference,” says Steele. She also uses full mirrors to eliminate blind spots, which can help larger locations create better visibility.
“Be aware of your surrounding,” Dufour adds. “Clothing is hard to keep track of when it’s on racks, so I like to display product on the wall—one per peg. That way it’s easy to see if something is missing.”
This method is also a great selling technique, adds Cindy Hahn, owner of Azaleas in New York, NY. “We do not put all sizes out,” she says. “This requires us to initiate a conversation with the customer and it becomes a more intimate interaction with them.”
“The dressing rooms are the most likely place for theft to occur so securing the area will help you cut back on loss.”
The dressing rooms are the most likely place for theft to occur so securing the area will help you cut back on loss. Dufour says that switching from curtains to locking doors helped him deter theft that was taking place in the dressing rooms. “With the locks, customers have to be let into a fitting room and we are able to check what they are taking in with them,” he says.
“We make sure that sales staff always help customers to a dressing room,” adds Hahn. “You can discuss a particular item when placing items to try on such as, ‘Oh, that green bra is one of my favorites.’ Dropping hints like this lets the potential thief know that you are aware of what is in the dressing room.”
Install Security Devices
Good security equipment, including cameras, is an invaluable part of loss prevention. Dufour has used several camera systems in both locations and currently uses Geo Vision, which he likes because it runs through his point of sale system. “While I’m sitting there checking someone out, I’m also able to watch the rest of the store on my computer,” he says. His current system has 16 cameras and each one can be viewed on his screen at the same time. In the past, he has also used Speco Technologies and Uniden, which can be purchased at Costco.
Additionally, consider purchasing night vision cameras to protect yourself from burglaries and cameras for your parking lot that will help you capture license plate information that may be valuable when reporting an incident to the police.
Electronic Article Surveillance systems will also keep your store secure. Steele says this was necessary for her business since there are often several people in her shop and she is unable to watch them all. “It makes me feel more confident,” she says. “I’ve stopped more people with my security system than my cameras.”
Above: Azaleas Lingerie Boutique.
“Clothing is hard to keep track of when it’s on racks, so I like to display product on the wall—one per peg. That way it’s easy to see if something is missing.” Cindy Hahn, Azaleas.
Azaleas uses a Ketec clear standing system. “When we moved to our new location on an avenue, we knew that we would have to step up our security procedures and systems,” says Hahn. “With more street traffic, there also tends to be more theft.” Additionally, Hahn upgraded her hard tags to more compact pencil tags that are lighter than traditional tags used for ready-to-wear. “They work great for delicate lingerie,” she says. These smaller tags come in several varieties that are compatible with a number of existing security systems. Hahn purchased hers on eBay.
Above: One of Crave’s POS Displays.
Remember, not every product can be tagged and tracked. Glass cases become a great way to safely display expensive items. When adult toy maker, Crave heard complaints that their products were among the most thieved items for lingerie retailers they decided to do something. “What we ended up doing was designing a small POS display that both allowed the Duet (and our other products) to be explored by the customer, but with a very small steal cable built into the display that makes it really hard to steal,” says Michael Topolovac, CEO of Crave. “Imagine something like what you would see in the Apple Store, except the security cable disappears when the product is not being held.” Such technology allows retailers to determine the location of the display based on where it will sell best, and not security.
Confrontation Methods and Legality
Shoplifting laws vary by state, but in most, a retailer must have probable cause in order to approach a customer suspected of shoplifting. Contact your local law enforcement officials to help you determine the best way to handle theft in your store, and from there create a shoplifting procedure for all employees. “Once these guidelines are set, each employee should be trained in accordance with the set SOP guidelines,” says Gasse. “It is also good to have refresher training with employees to ensure all understand the importance of following the established procedures. All must understand that these situation, always keeping safety as the priority.”
Above: Glass Case Display at Little Black Box Lingerie.
“There’s not a magic wand you can wave to identify one person who is a shoplifter over another.” – Garth Gasse, Retail Industry Leaders Association.
Dufour is careful with his words when he approaches a potential shoplifter. “It’s not illegal for someone to put an item in their pocket while they are still in your store,” he says. “I have my employees approach someone like that with a shopping basket and say, ‘Our store policy is that you can’t put anything in your pocket, this should make it easier for you to finish your shopping.’”
Knowing what behaviors to look for will help you determine who to approach. “There’s not a magic wand you can wave to identify one person who is a shoplifter over another,” says Gasse. Dufour trains his staff to look out for customers who are looking at every single item on a rack. “It’s because they are looking for one missing a security tag so they can take it,” he says.
“It’s more important to focus on the behavior of an individual or group, rather than the appearance,” adds Gasse. “If someone is coming into shop they are looking at prices, they are looking at signage and they are looking at merchandise. If someone is coming in to shoplift, they are looking away from product, they are looking up for cameras and they are looking for the tools that are out there.” Knowing what to look for, and who to keep an extra cautious eye on, will help you protect your store from theft.
Beyond your local law enforcement, there are plenty of resources retailers can utilize to help build a stronger defense against shoplifting and theft. Visit the below websites and organizations for more information.
RILA Retail Asset Protection Conference
The Loss Prevention Foundation
National Anti-Organized Retail Crime Association