Do you take clothing security in your store seriously or do you see clothing theft as a minor annoyance? Would you be more concerned about stolen merchandise if you knew that it could be much more than a teen or adult taking something here and there? Did you know that shoplifting can be part of an international crime organization? I came across a story in The Sydney Morning Herald dated 27 Dec 2018, by Cameron Houston, Chris Vedelago and Sumeyya Ilanbey, “Australian police smash international syndicate run by Chilean tourists”. The story reports that the group is suspected of the theft of more than $1 million in merchandise. Some of the theft was from homes but much of it seems to have been identified as goods shoplifted from stores. They report one of the suspects was believed to have been, “…part of a group of Chileans who stole a trove of lingerie from a Victoria’s Secret outlet in a California mall”. The young woman mentioned in the report had already been involved in a police raid on her hotel room in 2018 in the Los Angeles area. The reporters mentioned that police found shopping bags lined with foil in the room (known in the Loss Prevention lexicon as booster bags) during their raid. From my experiences as a Loss Prevention Manager I will assert that if the $1 million in theft is what is suspected then the amount they are responsible for as a group is much higher. Are all shoplifters part of an Organized Crime Ring? No, but the same Sensormatic tags that can prevent the petty criminal activity (if you can call shoplifting a petty crime) can stop shoplifting by Organized rings.
How does a group get away with so much theft? I’m not talking about the legal system in the United States. Unfortunately laws are extremely varied from state to state in how shoplifting is dealt with in terms of punishment. It can range from a police citation to appear in court (I have had that take place in my jurisdiction for “cooperative” suspects) to significant jail time for multiple offenses. The sad fact is in many cases shoplifting is viewed as non-violent so the penalties are a slap on the wrist and admonishment to stop stealing. The “get away” with it I am talking about is how these criminals (and I am referring to EVERY shoplifter) have the ability to get merchandise out of a store without being detected. Clothing security involves several layers of protection and each layer supports the other.
The first “layer of protection” to prevent shoplifting of clothing or any other merchandise requires a culture of personal customer service. From the moment a shopper enters a store there should be a greeting from an employee. The greeter has to look at who enters and try to make eye contact. Shoplifters do not want to be noticed. I have entered stores where a chime rings when you walk in and a cashier says hello while looking at the register or doing something else, never looking at me. It is what I call the obligatory greeting. The customer should also see electronic article surveillance towers when they walk through the doors indication Sensormatic tags or other devices are in use.
The next layer of protection still involves customer service but this takes place on the sales floor. Every customer should be approached by an employee and offered assistance in locating merchandise or matching up items as in accessorizing. This not only increases sales but also gives the employee the opportunity to determine if the customer is a sincere shopper or may be “suspicious”. I use the term carefully because I am talking about suspicions involving the customer’s actions or what they may be wearing or carrying. Are they carrying a bag from another retailer not in the area? It could be a booster bag meant to neutralize Sensormatic tags.
I am going to continue this discussion on clothing security in Part 2 because it is an important topic and cannot be sufficiently addressed in a single article. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, it is not a petty crime and it is a nightmare for retailers if left unchecked. You also cannot assume your shortage is the result of local opportunists you could be the victim of a much larger problem. We will explore this some more in the next article.
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