Almost everyone is familiar with the term shoplifting. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), “there are approximately 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people) in our nation today, and more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.” So, certainly anyone who owns a retail business is aware and many may already have systems set in place in order to minimize the risk.
The NASP reports that in most cases shoplifters are stealing product for their own use, but three percent of shoplifters make it a profession. Organized retail crime takes shoplifting to a whole new level where organized groups steal merchandise for the purpose of reselling it online or at flea markets. In addition, they may return the stolen merchandise to stores in exchange for store credit, which could be used to buy more desirable merchandise or to simply pocket the money.
According to the annual Organized Retail Crime survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, organized retail crime costs the retail industry $30 billion per year. This is a staggering number and is continually growing. According to the survey, 83 percent of merchants surveyed reported an increase in the past year. Ninety percent of those retailers who responded to the survey have been a victim of organized retail crime in the past 12 months.
With those kinds of statistics, organized retail crime is not just a problem for the large retail chains. In many cases, small retailers are an easier target for criminals.
Though potential product lines can include almost anything, targeted products almost always share some or all of the following key characteristics:
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The product is considered valuable or in high demand.
The product is easily accessible to consumers.
The product is easily concealed to avoid detection when stolen.
The product has wide availability and demand, especially in different stores or markets.
The product is innovative or offers premium performance that is highly attractive to customers.
The product is easily sold and converted to cash quickly.
So what can the small retailer, who cannot afford the elaborate and expensive theft protection systems, do to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of organized retail crime?
Being aware of the problem is the first step in prevention. There are also five inexpensive steps that can be taken to discourage organized theft groups.
Product placement – Move target products away from the door. Limit the number of items kept on the shelf and consider keeping them in locked display cases.
Key Control – Many organized retail crime groups depend on the assistance of employees inside the company. Limit access to keys and change locks anytime an employee with key access leaves the company.
Video Surveillance – Having a video surveillance system can be invaluable in stopping thieves. Systems have become relatively inexpensive and provide both deterrence and evidence should a theft occur.
Customer Service – Engaging with customers while in your store will lessen the likelihood of theft. Thieves want to get in and out quickly and unnoticed. If you have a reputation for strong customer service, they may just opt to pass you by.
Develop Partnerships – Working together with law enforcement and other retailers in order to share information will raise awareness and will allow all of the store owners to put deterrents in place before they become victims.
Retail crime can take a big bite out of a small business owner’s bottom line. When in doubt, enlist no-cost local resources to help you through the process of putting deterrents in place, such as the professionally credentialed consultants at the Florida SBDC at USF.
Bill Burnham is a business consultant with the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida. His office is located at the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce.