To retailers and businesses concerned with security, the holy grail of efficiency is to identify a replicable process that is effective when implemented at any location. Forever seeking the silver bullet, many retailers try to push effective best practices from top-down across all stores to achieve performance and consistency, especially where operations and loss prevention are concerned. These two areas are expected to have less regional variation than areas such as procurement, merchandising or customer service, which are highly dependent on regional preferences and logistics.
But as it turns out, the demographic profile of the area surrounding the retail store has everything to do with loss prevention. Location -- specifically whether the store is urban, rural or suburban -- plays into so many of the variables that impact risk and loss, that location-specific consideration and planning are required for successful loss prevention.
What's the big difference?
In today's global and connected world, many would expect for technology and processes to transcend location. But there are significant differences between the rural, urban and suburban environments. The people who work at the store differ in all three of these locations, as well as the people who shop there. The risks are different, as well as the resources. All of these factors greatly impact loss prevention. We will carefully examine why each of these elements is different and consider measures retailers in these different locations can take to mitigate the risks.
Urban retailers are generally faced with higher turnover than their suburban and rural counterparts. Many employees will stay with a job only on a short-term basis or will simply find other opportunities in a bustling job market. In rural markets, there are fewer employment opportunities and employees may be more likely to consider their position a long-term career. Suburban markets may have both long-term, career-oriented employees (such as young families established in the suburbs) and short-term temporary hires (such as young adults seeking employment while in school). Typically, managers in urban stores are newer to the role and less experienced. Suburban and rural residents tend to be families whose adults are seeking steady income and growth opportunities.
Urban stores may be in closer proximity to illegal activity. In most cities, drug trafficking, panhandling, prostitution or other crimes are common to the downtown area. These events could deter shoppers from coming to the store. There may also be fewer resources to turn to if and when incidences occur. While urban areas generally have sufficient law enforcement resources, they also have higher crime and incident rates, placing more of a burden on the system. Rural stores may have a challenge getting support from law enforcement simply because resources are limited and are a long drive away. In suburban areas, there may be more law enforcement officers, but the nature of the crimes that they deal with causes them to prioritize response and they are most likely to respond quicker to incidences more critical than crimes against retailers.
With easy access to the store via public transportation or simply heavy pedestrian traffic, urban stores are an open environment for loitering or panhandling from unwanted traffic. Customers are also different from a logistical standpoint in how they shop. Many are on foot and usually only purchase as much as they can physically carry from the store. Meanwhile, rural and suburban shoppers pull up in their SUV, ready to fill it. An urban store may experience heavy traffic during the lunch hour, Monday through Friday when area businesspeople shop during lunch, whereas a remote rural store may see traffic peak primarily late afternoon when school and work have released.
Managing the Differences