Talking Retail Security and Loss Prevention at ISC West

About a month ago, I was out spending hard earned dollars at Best Buy, buying a DVD of The Breakup, with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.

I entered the store and was greeted with a helpful "Can we help you find something?" My fiancé and I declined the offer of help and wandered back into the store to the heavy hitter electronics sections to drool over new top-of-the-line PCs and some really stunning plasma displays. We eventually ended up in the movie section and it came down to a horror movie and The Breakup. I think it's clear whose pick we bought that night. We moved forward in the store through the store, away from the high-end electronics and to the cash registers, which were neatly positioned at the exit. We paid, grabbed the DVD and as we walked out, the electronic article surveillance tag, which the cashier had forgotten to deactivate, set off the alarms. The "yellow shirts" stepped forward as we turned around the sound of the alarm. "Is everything alright," they asked. "No problem here," I joked back, "we're just shoplifting." We handed over the movie and our cashier receipt; the loss prevention employee checked it and wished us a good evening.

Now the reason I mention this brief experience is not because it's the kind of movie that every couple should watch, but because shopping at Best Buy that evening has everything to do with retail security and the following of some basic best practices in loss prevention.

Fast forward a month and I was sitting on an ISC West education panel about “Retail Loss Prevention Trends, Techniques, and Technology.” The panel was graciously chaired by David Happe of US Install, and also featured Paul Stone, head of loss prevention and risk management for Best Buy, Liz Martinez, an author, strategist and professor in the realm of loss prevention and retail security, Sanggoo Kang in product marketing with Samsung, and Master Police Officer Jack White, a personal friend of Martinez who been around a block or two when it comes to retail crimes.

To an audience of 80 percent dealers/integrators, 15 percent end-users, plus a handful of specialized vendors, our panel spoke for almost 2 hours on topics affecting electronic security system sales in the retail environment, organized retail crime, internal theft problems, smash-and-grab crimes and a whole lot more.

After the panel, I was thinking back on this visit to Best Buy, and I was thinking a bit about how Paul Stone's loss prevention policies were well placed. Not only did he do the #1 thing to prevent shoplifting (an employee greeted us - and shoplifters like being greeted about as much as they like to think about undercover LP staff, because it means they could be remembered), but he also had used some basic LPTED (loss prevention through environmental design) strategies. For LPTED, whether intentional or not, the store didn't place high-value items in a location where they could be snatched and run immediately out a front door. Cash register stations impeded any exit, putting a store employee (and surveillance) between any potential thief and the home-free run of a parking lot. Especially in areas of small, easily hidden product, the aisles were all designed to be low enough that a single employee could easily monitor what's happening not only in his/her aisle, but also adjacent aisles. And finally, video surveillance and EAS systems were being deployed as a technological add-on.

Besides store strategy and LPTED, our panel covered a number of great strategies to reduce loss and improve retail security. It was an honor to share the stage with such a knowledgeable crew of professionals, and they left the audience members (and me) with some great take-aways on how to improve store security. Here's a few of them to get you started as you think about implementing security at your stores or at your clients’ operations:

- Internal theft will almost always outweigh shoplifting, usually by almost 6-to-1 in cost – a data point evidenced by the 18th Annual Retail Theft Survey conducted by Jack Hayes International.

- Random acts of violence like the recent Trolley Square Mall shootings aren't always possible to prevent, but even if you can't prevent that incident, you need to think about how to prepare for a response plan.

- Every cop whose beat has a store in the vicinity (isn't that everyone?) is more than willing to grab a cup of coffee with your security crew to talk about retail security/loss prevention strategy. Don't be shy.

- Security is still hard to sell to small retailers, who want a tangible definition of ROI, and who are more likely to spend that $10,000 on store marketing rather than PTZs.

- Beware the "booster bag". Typically oversized bags from real retailers, these bags are customized by organized retail theft participants in such a way that they are lined with foil to defeat EAS tags. Train your surveillance staff to watch for these as they enter the store.

- Organized retail crime rings typically operate with 3 or 4 people in a store. One is usually assigned to stay near the front as a lookout and distraction, while the other 2 or 3 "boost" your products. Look for subtle communications between these criminals as they are in your store.

- Live by the rule of 33. A $100 item may only have $3 of profit once you take away all the marketing, employee costs, equipment costs and everything else you have to pay to support that one sale. So if you have a single $100 item stolen, you're going to need to sell 33 of the same item to raise back $99 to roughly equate the cost of that one theft. Only with your 34th sale do you return to profitability with that merchandise. Ouch, I have to say, that truth hurts – but it’s also an exceptional point on why LP systems have innate ROI.

- Think about issues of liability. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but it’s something you and your clients should think about: Does the act of providing guards and surveillance systems imply to your customers that they are protected? And with those in place, are they really protected?

- This point needs to be brought up again because it’s more important almost every other action item an LP department can take: Shoplifters hate being greeted by an employee. Jack White notes that a simple greeting by a store employee can prevent an act of shoplifting better than any technology that we can sell.

- You don't have to sell security systems and cameras as purely a security solution. Sell systems like surveillance as business operational tools, and you'll get buy-in from store merchandisers who can check a store's presentation status, and sales analysts can use your video systems to monitor traffic patterns and review how end-caps and product displays are working. Let the sales and operational folks help pay for the surveillance system, since the LP department usually isn't the most funded portion of a store.

Ok, I'll admit...that's just a tease of some of the great points that our columnists shared. I'm not going to replicate the session for you, but I will note that Liz Martinez, besides authoring The Retail Manager's Guide to Loss Prevention, is a regular columnist on, and that an interview with Paul Stone of Best Buy will be featured on both and an upcoming issue of Security Technology & Design.