Holiday Retail Theft

Retailers are always enamored over the holidays—malls and streets jammed with eager shoppers, cash registers ringing (or the similarly lucrative sounds of electronic sales racking up) and merchandise flying off shelves before Santa’s arrival. What’s not to love?

The lump of coal in most retailers’ stockings is the inevitable occurrence of shoplifting, which tends to spike during the festive season. Each year organizations go to great lengths to minimize shrinkage through everything from hiring extra theft-prevention staff to installing high-tech monitoring tools. High-definition cameras, the presence of trained security personnel, adding signage to deter would-be thieves and understanding your clientele—and who doesn’t fit in, while resisting the temptation to profile potential malfeasants—are all practical tactics to help mitigate the financial impact of the more than $3 billion in retail shrinkage that affects Canadian organizations each year.

But there are two largely overlooked—some might say unexpected—areas where our team begins any conversation around curbing retail theft: employee engagement and customer service.

A counterintuitive strategy

At Wincon Security, we help retailers develop comprehensive theft-mitigation strategies that include the tools mentioned above—and far more—when we develop a customized anti-theft checklist suited to your organization’s specific needs. But we also ask several business-focused questions that take that discussion to another level. The first centres around metrics such as employee turnover.

Why? Because it’s one indicator of lackluster engagement. The more workers that abandon their employer at a high frequency, the likelier they are to engage in criminal behaviour such as stealing merchandise. Despite what most retailers believe, internal shrinkage is an even greater risk than external theft. Even though many stores will inspect employee bags before leaving the premises, the fact is that employees determined to remove goods from a store can usually do so with relative ease. Yes, surveillance helps, but only to confirm when a theft has occurred.

Prevention requires a much more proactive approach.

Think culture first

We advise retailers to focus on building stronger relationships with their workers, including part-time holiday staff, and consider implementing employee-friendly measures. That can range from bumping pay rates to slightly above industry standard and improving training programs, to simple tactics such as offering recognition for a job well done or throwing team-building events. The goal is to give employees a sense of ownership and to tie them closer to the organization. Happy employees are far less likely to lift merchandise than their disgruntled colleagues.

Taking service to the next level

When it comes to providing better customer service, many organizations think that means training staff to approach all customers once they enter a store, asking them if they need help and then keeping an eye open for suspicious behaviour. These are all perfectly-appropriate techniques that do help minimize theft. But retailers—particularly those catering to luxury clientele—need to do more. They need to provide great service.

That means engaging with customers, determining their needs, being present when they try on clothing or as they test merchandise, guiding them through the purchase cycle with information about the good or service on which they’re considering spending their hard-earned dollars, and making them feel truly special. Deepening that engagement, perhaps by offering to enter customers into your store’s database to provide better service in future, or to help keep them up-to-date on new promotions, sends a message that your relationship is more than transactional. It’s about working together to satisfy their unique retail needs over the long haul.

On the security front, providing high-touch service sends another message: we’re on the lookout for potential thieves and we will catch those who try to leave our store without paying for merchandise. It also shifts the focus from providing what some might consider to be harassing service—when a salesperson follows you around the store and won’t allow you to browse in peace—to adding value by helping them achieve their shopping goals. That could mean presenting them with interesting alternative options, such as a different style garment or a different model of electronic device, for example.

Now, you may be wondering why a security firm is providing advice on the HR and sales front. Because smart, forward-thinking security requires a holistic perspective. We’re happy to sell retailers our integrated security services, but we know through both empirical data and experience that they’re far more effective when our clients take a 360-degree view of their security needs.

Doing it the right way means looking beyond the obvious, and finding positive ways to thwart would-be thieves.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security