ORC in 2013

An exclusive Q&A with National Retail Federation VP of loss prevention Rich Mellor on how retailers are working to end the threat of Organized Retail Crime

That is absolutely the case. The NRF is very much involved with that too — as an organization we have a number of different groups that meet around the country where information and stats are shared in groups. Commonalities and patterns start to emerge, and law enforcement agencies are coming to those meetings now to discuss the problem and see if they can collaborate with different localities and retailers. That cooperation is huge compared to what it used to be just a few years ago, and we are excited to see what that’s going to lead to.

We are seeing cases develop and arrests being made across the US – we get bulletins every day where some group was taken down and it led to the recovery of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions in merchandise. That’s going in a very good direction.


Michigan has made ORC a felony, are other states following suit with similar legislation? 

It’s one state after another really that are putting in place felony thresholds and defining what constitutes organized retail crime at the state level, but those definitions vary from one state to another.


What is the direct impact of ORC on the retail community?

The financial impact is extraordinary — when you put out 25 items and 15 get stolen, you are operating in the red. In some cases, retailers have to make a judgment call — if they continue to put these items on the shelf and lose them at a high rate, it becomes cost-prohibitive to even carry them. 

Often, the consumer is overlooked when it comes to the impact of ORC. When these thieves take a whole shelf of jeans or a whole rack of medication, it’s not available for the consumer. Some retailers have had to take these items off the counter, and then the consumer can’t buy it and they become frustrated with the retailer.


What are some of the items that ORC is targeting?

Baby formula, for example, has been a topic of conversation for at least a decade. It’s expensive and desirable product, and it’s easy to sell in flea markets and other places. Over the years, there’s hardly an item that the organized retail thieves won’t go after if in fact they can get a quantity.

Popular items include designer products such as jeans, handbags, scarves or shoes, where there is a market for them both inside and outside the United States.

Grocery and pharmacy items such as over-the-counter medications, beauty products, skin care items, disposable razors are attractive because thieves can sweep them off a shelf quickly, and the price points are not cheap. The products we mention on our survey even include laundry detergent — as crazy as it sounds, Tide really became a target. It was an easy product to recognize, it was not exactly locked down and secured and it was displayed in close proximity to exits. The reality is, the thieves have the ability to sell items like that very quickly, so they are desirable.

But groceries and pharmacies are now doing a better job in protecting them.


What are the physical protective measures that groceries and pharmacies are using?

Now you see the plexi-type devices that prohibit you from getting more than one package at a time. They are common for items like Tylenol or razor blades — you have to slide the plexi-glass aside to get the one you want. Those physical controls can be a bit of an inconvenience for the customers, but the honest ones recognize the need for those types of devices.

Technology is definitely helping along those lines and those physical controls are being coupled with electronic measures. For example, if you hold those plexi-devices open for a specific length of time, you might hear an audible tone to alert an in-store associate that someone is holding it open. Coupled with that, an alert message might be sent to that associate’s mobile device. Then the person in that aisle may suddenly see someone from the store show up pretty quickly.


What other types of technology are common among retailers to theft prevention?

I happen to believe that public view monitors have a great impact. If your camera equipment is good and it displays a very clear picture, the thieves can see that they can be recognized. It creates awareness that the store is probably not a good one to target.

Thieves have countered by wearing baseball caps and keeping their heads down, but retailers have responded with cameras positioned at different levels — they may be pointing down, or upward, or straight at you.