Produced by Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International (PRCI) and sponsored by leading High Street retailer Marks and Spencer, the 48-page report entitled ‘Retail Loss Prevention in Perspective’ has been authored by PRCI’s director Professor Martin Gill in order to generate insights on current issues affecting retail loss prevention for the benefit of those working in this sphere. Indeed, leading loss prevention managers have contributed towards the report, none more so than Clint Reid (the head of corporate security at Marks and Spencer).
The wide-ranging report shows that, while organised crime is perceived to be a more significant problem now than in the past, the aggravating factor appears to be a strong view that the police service is ever more neglectful of retailers. This problem is stoked by other trends such as a tendency to have fewer staff available on the shop floor (and thus less oversight of it), the speed with which retailers make moves in the market to gain a competitive edge without taking the time to assess the potential losses and/or security implications and the growing practice of opening stores in ‘difficult’ geographical areas.
Against this background, margins in retailing are generally seen to be tight, while it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to gain support for spending on loss prevention measures (although some notable successes are apparent).
In general, but not exclusively so, those practitioners interviewed during this study feel they’re doing a good job, although for most there’s a self-stated room for improvement. The majority of security professionals believe they’re supported by the Board in their loss prevention efforts, but again there’s often room for improvement here.
Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that loss prevention is typically distanced from the Board. Moreover, while most loss prevention specialists are judged at least in part (although often in large part) on how well they bring down loss figures, this isn’t always something over which they enjoy complete control. Resources were seen as tight and this was sometimes a limitation interviewees said they had to work within.
It’s viewed as difficult to compare performance because figures on shrink are deemed unreliable and complicate any comparisons. Some retailers are moving towards the concept of ‘Total Loss’, and this is creating a slight change in focus.
Discussion on security officers and systems
Security officers are seen as being useful in terms of responding to problems and providing a visible deterrent, but some managers point towards lower losses even when officers are taken out of stores.
Likewise, CCTV is sometimes seen as an essential element of loss prevention strategies by many managers, but others point to out-of-date technology and cameras not being used to their full potential even when they’re present.
Electronic Article Surveillance is sometimes viewed as being effective against opportunist thieves in particular, but also as a poor relation to RFID (although for the most part the jury was out on this when assessed in terms of theft prevention rather than stock management).
In short, then, all security measures are seen as good by some and not by others.
That said, the favoured crime prevention tool is most often staff, who offer both a visible presence and an opportunity to prevent thefts and intervene when necessary. Going forward, there’s likely to be a greater use of data and the linking of different databases to inform loss prevention approaches.
There are mixed views of both civil recovery schemes and the usefulness of crime partnerships. It was not so much that when done well they were not both praised, as they were. Rather, it’s the case that often practice doesn’t match the potential to influence loss reduction. This was the cause of some anxiety, and indeed highlights areas where there are opportunities for improvement.
Those working in loss prevention claimed to generate ideas and insights from each other, and there was a willingness to work with others on potentially pooling resources where appropriate to improve the loss prevention ‘lot’.
While some managers lament that loss prevention hasn’t raised its game sufficiently, others see potential via the greater use of data and intelligence, better use of technologies, more effective engagement from front line staff and via – in certain circumstances, at least – sharing resources in order to increase future impact.