As a retailer, it's not always easy to just throw money at problems like shoplifting or loss prevention. With a finite budget, many smaller retailers can't take advantage of all the technology that big-box stores may have at their fingertips. Whether it's high-tech security camera systems, door scanners, or facial-recognition software, sometimes their big-ticket costs just don't fit with your small business security budget.
But shoplifting can have a crippling effect on retailers — after all, inventory shrinkage costs the U.S. retail industry over $45 billion each year. So, while you may have a limited budget, it's important to identify shoplifting as a problem and have a loss prevention plan in place.
So, what's a retailer to do? Here, we'll take a look at cost-effective and low-tech tactics that you can start implementing right away.
1. Keep Your Store Organized and Products Well-Placed
How easy should it be to identify whether something has gone "missing" from your store? Empty space on your shelves should be enough of a visual cue to signal something has gone wrong.
However, if your store is messy, disorganized, or a maze to get through, it can be harder to notice that you've been "gotten" until it's too late.
Security expert and founder of Crime Doctor Chris McGoey recommends the following: "You want to keep all your merchandise 'faced,' which means pulling your products to the edge of the shelf to create a solid wall of product. If someone sweeps the shelf, then it is easy to tell."
2. Identify Common Shoplifting Methods and Traits
While there isn't a specific profile for shoplifters (thieves come in all shapes, ages, and races), retailers can curb shoplifting by recognizing a few common behaviors.
Shoplifters often work in pairs or larger groups so that there can be at least one person distracting the sales staff while the other proceeds to steal. The most common shoplifting method is hiding merchandise from sight. And here are some of the most common places where items are often quickly concealed:
- Purchased Merchandise
Occasionally, you might get a bold shoplifter who quickly grabs an item and runs out, but other things to keep an eye on are price label switching and false returns.
Switching prices is precisely what it sounds like — a shoplifter will exchange an item's price label with a less expensive item. While they may still be paying some portion of the item's cost, this is still a form of theft. False returns are another form of customer deception. Often a customer will purchase a product, use it, then return it under false pretenses. And while returns and exchanges don't have to equate with a loss, it's a common issue that retailers should watch out for.
You'll also want to look for and keep these common shoplifters traits in mind when determining whether you should exercise caution or suspicion. Some of these specific shoplifter traits include:
- Spending more time watching cashier or sales clerk than actually shopping
- Taking several items into the dressing room but only leaving with one
- Acts nervous and picks up random items with no interest
Depending on how long you've been in business, you'll start developing your own sixth sense for when to sound the alarm and when to keep your cool when it comes to loss prevention.
3. Leverage Coordinated Customer Service to Your Advantage
Great customer service isn't just a way to enhance the customer experience — it's also an effective tactic to curb shoplifting.
It's important to take effective store and staff management tactics and use them as a loss prevention tool. Here are a few customer service techniques to minimize opportunities to steal:
- Greet each customer that walks through your door — this le's them know that you're aware of their presence
- Depending on the size of your store, you'll want to make sure you have an adequate number of floor staff at any given time
- Create and implement a policy around bags brought in by customers (i.e. leaving large bags, tote bags, and backpacks behind the counter)
- Train cashiers to watch price tags and have them be on the lookout for price switching
- Have a code which enables staff to alert each other of suspicious activities
Creating these kinds of policies and training staff on shoplifting scenarios ahead of time can save you a ton of headaches that would occur from a more reactionary or ad-hoc approach.
4. Optimize Your Store's Design and Layout for Theft Prevention
We've previously covered retail interior design and merchandising displays, but now we want to show you how your store design can minimize opportunities for shoplifters to steal. Here's what you need to keep in mind:
- Place your checkout so that customers must pass it while exiting. Given that most consumers turn right upon entering, place your checkout prominent on the left-hand side. Also, make sure to never leave your register unlocked or unattended
- To eliminate blind spots in corners that shoplifters might use for hiding, make sure you install mirrors while making sure there's adequate lighting in all areas.
- Keep your fixtures and displays low for increased visibility
- Keep small or expensive items in locked cabinets
- Keep dressing rooms locked and limit the number of items taken in by each customer
You can also compare notes with neighboring retailers and ask for suggestions based on their experience.
5. Signage, Signage, Signage
Visual cues can be a high-impact and cost-effective means of warding off potential shoplifters. Not only do they stay put 24/7 while shoppers and staff move in and out of your sightline, but anti-theft signs can dissuade potential shoplifters much like a security system sign at home will dissuade a burglar.
SmartSign co-founder and CEO Blair Brewster offers this handy tip, "The goal of retail theft-prevention signs is to scare the thieves, not to intimidate legitimate buyers. Your signs should be a reflection of who you are and what you’re selling.”
Here are a few tips to maximize the impact of loss prevention signage in your store:
- Place a sign at or near your front door as it's often the first place shoppers look
- Instead of wasting precious shelf or floor space with your signs, place them up high where shoplifters will most likely check for surveillance cameras
- The language on the signs should reflect your company's brand and consider your target clientele
- Consider signs featuring eyes, which research has proven to double the likelihood of compliance
Moving Forward With a Low-Cost Loss Prevention Plan
Curbing shoplifting may feel like an overwhelming prospect at first, but the aforementioned tips can help you make incremental changes. Even basic tactics like anti-theft signage, scheduling enough floor staff every shift, and tweaking your store layout can go a long way toward loss prevention.