Retail Loss Prevention: A Myth

Many retail shoppers do not realize that part of the reason they pay high prices on certain merchandise (i.e., electronics, health & beauty aids, and cosmetics) is that they are absorbing the cost of product loss sustained by the company. In the retail world, this loss is referred to as “shrink.” Shrink encompasses losses from vendor billing errors, warehouse shipping errors, internal theft, and of course, external loss, better known as shoplifting. Most consumers believe shoplifting is a big part of loss sustained by retail stores. We can tell you that, in actuality, the most loss is incurred through internal theft and dishonesty. Thus the focus of the store’s Loss Prevention personnel is investigating internal issues. This leaves the store vulnerable to shoplifters.

Six-Step Method For Detecting Shoplifters

Most professional shoplifters are very familiar with policy and procedures used by most major retailers, as they all employ a six-step method to shoplifter detention. If one element of the six steps is not present or missed, the Loss Prevention personnel are not allowed to approach or detain the individual (s). Instead, they must go into prevention mode and take steps to try and “scare” or “intimidate” individual(s) into discarding merchandise prior to exiting the store.

The six steps to a shoplifter detection and detention involve observing the subject enter the department, make a selection, conceal merchandise, maintaining 100% surveillance to ensure that they do not discard merchandise prior to leaving the store, and of course, the failure to pay for the merchandise.

Personnel Can’t Detain Anyone

person showing handcuff
image source: Unsplash

Most major retailers do not allow their Loss Prevention personnel to physically detain shoplifting subjects. They are taught to approach in a non-aggressive manner, present their credentials and convince the individual to return to the store. Once in the store, the individual is supposed to be escorted, by at least two individuals trained in Loss Prevention apprehensions, to the designated office, where the stolen merchandise is then recovered.

The flaw in the process is that LP personnel cannot follow individual(s) into a restroom or fitting room, thus ending 100% surveillance. There are some stores that allow fitting room detentions to be made, but the circumstances must be perfect.

Another flaw in the process is the approach. As stated earlier, Loss Prevention personnel are not allowed to physically touch individuals. They are allowed to protect themselves if the individual attempts to attack them or become aggressive. Most retailers tell their LP personnel to essentially turn tail and run if the situation becomes violent or aggressive. This is due in part to recent lawsuits alleging excessive use of force by LP personnel.

The Consequences

Thus an individual can walk into a large retail store, load up a bag or cart and walk out the door with the merchandise and when approached by the personnel, just continue walking and not acknowledge their presence. Or they could make a threatening gesture which again would negate being detained by the personnel.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the Loss Prevention personnel in a store with closed-circuit television systems from reviewing and saving video footage and providing it to local authorities in hopes of obtaining arrest warrants for theft. But again, most companies discourage this particular investigative process because it would entail their personnel going to court, which the company would have to pay for. So as you see, based on the few situations described herein, most of the large retailers have policies in place that actually make it simple for individuals to steal.

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