Television’s new drama series, “The Black Donnellys,” recently illustrated how easy it is to foil an electronic-article-surveillance (EAS) system. During the second episode, two of the main characters entered an apparel store with a paper shopping bag lined with tin foil. As they filled the bag with EAS-tagged clothes and walked out of the store undetected, I remember thinking, “Leave it to Hollywood to offer a ‘how-to’ lesson in theft.”
Less than a month later, a group of brash shoplifters successfully pulled the same stunt at a Victoria’s Secret store in the Newport Center Mall in Jersey City, N.J. Besides proving my point, the incident also made me question just how well retailers are really protecting store-level merchandise.
Three shoplifters crammed panties costing $5 to $20 each and bras worth $20 to $50 each into lined “booster bags,” and walked out of the busy store. Upon reviewing the closed-circuit-television (CCTV) system’s tape following the incident, the store estimated the lost merchandise was worth almost $12,000.
The next day, a similar incident occurred. Again, three thieves used lined bags to steal 100 bras from the Victoria’s Secret store in New Jersey’s Burlington Center Mall. Two of the three criminals were arrested, though officials are unsure if it was the same group that pulled off the Jersey City heist, according to an article in The Star Ledger.
Many issues were factored into the thefts. According to reports, poor-quality CCTV tapes made it difficult to identify and nab the criminals. Some mall employees even reported that small staffs can’t manage the fairly spacious retail footprints.
I think there is a bigger issue. Loss-prevention technology solutions need the supervision of educated users. The incidents at Victoria’s Secret should be a wakeup call for any retailer whose EAS and CCTV systems may be failing to thwart thieves.
Pinpointing theft after the fact is not the ideal way to manage loss. Instead, chains need to focus on loss-prevention programs that include location audits, internal benchmark compliance programs and most importantly, training.
If chains want to protect their merchandise, their associates and even their shoppers, they should recommit to monthly loss-prevention training sessions. A combination of instructor-led and computer-based training (CBT) sessions can help store-level managers and associates correctly and consistently use security tags and solutions, as well as understand how to detect a theft.
Retailers also need to analyze each session’s results. This will teach corporate and store-level associates where loss stems from, and why it may be occurring.
Maybe it is a staffing issue. Maybe anti-theft solutions are not being used correctly. Maybe merchandise placement is too risky. Regardless of the answers, retailers need to use data to make better decisions and manage (or even prevent) future occurrences.
What good is having a loss-prevention program if it is not followed?
There are daily reports of the extra steps that retailers are taking to protect mission critical and customer data from savvy hackers and cyber thieves. I just hope these efforts are not contributing to retailers’ growing complacency to uphold technologies and risk-management operations that protect store-level assets, including merchandise, store employees and, of course, shopper safety.