By Andrew Wren
Who thought we’d see the day when a popular brand of laundry detergent would become the main target of organized crime rings and make nationwide headlines? It is the unpredictable nature of these crime waves that show us why LP professionals must maintain the strictest of controls, watchful eyes, and agile responses to effectively combat, not only organized retail crime (ORC), but also any kind of loss-causing activity.
It took retailers struck with the recent “grime wave” some time to realize the extent of the thefts. By the time they examined and addressed the problem, they racked up hundreds of thousands in losses. Stopping ORC is a moving target and always will be. To identify emerging ORC trends, retailers can rely on a variety of methods and technologies that will enable them to respond quickly in order to protect merchandise, curb losses of high-value targets, and ideally catch the perpetrators.
Use data, security equipment to see trends, deter theft
Technology gives retailers a clear view into transactional trends and inventory accounting data. Any retailer should be looking at analytics around the items that they know to be high-value targets to look for trends that might indicate something suspicious is happening within a certain category of product, or to spot possible return fraud rings.
In addition, retailers have long relied on video. However, retailers should periodically reassess to determine if they have the right surveillance coverage to yield the maximum benefit, based on an understanding of criminals’ patterns.
For example, a retailer may have full video coverage of fire exits, but camera angles can only detect activity rather than provide a clear facial image of individuals exiting those fire doors. In most cases, an identification shot is needed at the exit due to a large number of “push outs.” Video captured near exterior doors should also be set up to clearly capture the license plates of any suspicious get-away cars. Or maybe video coverage has been focused on the jewelry and electronics cases but needs to be set up in the health and beauty aisle based on new ORC crime patterns. It’s important to reassess needs and high-risk areas frequently and to adjust technologies as necessary.
If push-outs are occurring at fire exits, retailers should investigate options for reducing the likelihood that criminals will take advantage of these hidden exits. Some push-to-exit systems now offer a 10-second delay between the time when the button is pushed and when the door opens, deterring this kind of activity.
Public view monitors (PVMs) offer precise, at-the-shelf video coverage, which can deter criminals and provide close-up video in case of theft. Today’s PVMs are easy to mount and deploy and offer a cost effective way for retailers to shift video coverage easily as ORC trends change. Whether placed at checkout, by doors or in the aisles as close as six to eight inches from merchandise, PVMs are masterful ‘tools of deterrence.’
Check and double-check your processes
Retailers are brilliant at setting the strategy and design of processes that make operations run as efficiently as possible. However, implementation in different locations with different people presents a multitude of challenges.
To identify signs you’ve been hit by ORC, these processes should be ironclad across a retail organization:
- Regular, frequent “merchandising” walk-throughs by store managers to take a visual inventory
- Employee training to ensure they appropriately report suspicious activities in the store
- Testing and evaluation of security equipment
By auditing these processes regularly, retailers can verify consistency across all stores. For example, an audit of the store walk-through process should seek to establish if the store manager conducts visual inventory checks to identify things that don’t seem quite right. Is there a system for any store employee to report or further investigate oddly low inventory of product? Are back end systems used to verify increased sales to accommodate for low product? Are suspicious findings tracked in a central database and shared with key executives across the organization?
Retailers should ensure that processes are in place to help identify problems early and that these processes are consistently implemented throughout all stores at all times.
Connect the dots
LP professionals are intuitive, responsive and great at problem solving in creative ways. In most cases, the challenge is seeing the forest for the trees. Connecting the dots through information sharing is difficult because of communication challenges. Technology lends a hand in this area, allowing stores to communicate and share information from emails to data to video clips and audit results. If any problem is suspicious and plaguing one store, chances are the same problem is plaguing at least one other store. LP professionals should share, communicate and collaborate. Technology and new social media channels make it easy—retailers need only have programs and guidelines in place for doing so. Retail associations are also working to encourage sharing of information across the entire industry. This can make a big difference in identifying tactics that work and ensuring those best practices are shared to protect the entire industry.
Because retailers can never predict what the next ORC wave will bring, they must be positioned to see the trends and act on them to stop the losses from walking out the door.
Andrew Wren serves as chief executive officer of Wren Solutions, a loss-prevention technology provider helping leading retailers reduce loss and increase profits. Wren is responsible for corporate and product strategy, leveraging his more than two decades of security technology expertise.