Secure your holiday retail profits

Essential tips on how to avoid being taken during the giving season

The bulk of retail sales occur during the last two months of the year, creating a chaotic scene perfect for the less than honest. While retailers battle crimes such as shoplifting, employee theft, ID theft, returns fraud, gift card fraud, and organized retail theft, offenders tend to increase their efforts during the busy holiday season. According to the 2005 National Retail Security Survey, produced by Dr. Richard Hollinger at the University of Florida, shoplifters account for 32.8 percent of your overall shrink dollar. That’s a big chunk of change! Fortunately, savvy owners can learn to recognize potential threats and nip them in the bud before a crime is committed.

Identifying features
Forget the black hat and moustache – shoplifters look like the average Joe (or Jill). They come in all sizes and races. You cannot tell just by looking at someone.

But there are other ways to identify potential shoplifters. Watch for common alert signals, or abnormal behavior shoplifters display when they are about to take your merchandise:

• Carrying a bag into the store, especially from a store that is not located in your shopping area.
• Appearing nervous or startled when approached.
• Constantly looking around.
• Watching your actions more than anything else.
• Bluntly refusing assistance from store personnel.
• Not concerned with the details (price, size, or color) of selected merchandise.
• Moving merchandise from one location to another.
• Diverting employees' attention while others steal.
• Carrying personal items such as a coat, hat, or umbrella to conceal merchandise. Another favorite tool is a drink cup with a lid, often used to steal small, expensive merchandise.
• Thieving teams – one person diverts employees’ attention while the other steals.

The best defense
The number one way to deter shoplifting is to provide excellent customer service. Industry experts say that methods such as video cameras and electric article surveillance (EAS) systems can be very effective, but these methods are costly. Nothing beats good customer service.

Pay attention
The last thing a potential shoplifter wants is an attentive and aware store associate. Make sure your staff greets customers and makes eye contact. A shoplifter’s goal is to enter your store, select and conceal your merchandise, and leave unnoticed. Your employees should be paying constant attention to all customers.

Perfect attendance
Never leave the sales floor unattended. Many times, as a customer, I have searched the floor for assistance only to find the sales associates huddled together talking about their Friday night plans, making the store a shoplifter’s paradise.

Fit for a thief
A fitting room is a primary source for shoplifters because it is a private area where he or she can examine items, remove price tags, and conceal merchandise – all unseen. If your store provides a fitting room, keep it clean. Scattered merchandise from previous shoppers sends the message that you do not care. Remove unpurchased garments from the fitting rooms and remove any discarded price tags as they are evidence unpaid merchandise went out the door.

Set and enforce policies that require associates to examine and count the items before they are taken into fitting room. When a customer exits have the employee examine and take the unwanted merchandise from the customer.

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