Staying a step ahead of the retail theft game

retail theft prevention

For as long as there has been retail there’s been the good ol’ five finger discount. And for as long as shop owners have been finding inventive ways to protect their wares, would-be thieves have been carefully crafting creative ways around them.

The challenge for the modern retailer is that in the past retail security evasion was about individual nous or word of mouth, but these days criminals have a whole world of tips and advice at their fingertips courtesy of social media and the internet.

So what do you do as a retailer when the game of security is about staying one step ahead?



According to the Global Retail Theft Barometer 2015 shrink is a $123.4 billion problem globally. While that figure on its own is startling enough, to put it into perspective that’s just short of Australia’s entire mining revenue each year.

That figure represents 1.23 per cent of all retail sales, but according to the US National Retail Federation survey, apparel retailers spend only 0.63 per cent of their sales revenue on loss prevention measures, while US grocery stores allocate on 0.36 per cent.

“The efforts to combat shrinkage are significant,” The NRF continues, but perhaps not enough.

“Retailers use loss prevention systems ‘almost universally’, but loss prevention budgets represented less than 1 per cent of overall 2014 sales.”

Meanwhile the Global Theft Barometer further notes in 10 out of the 14 countries they surveyed, loss prevention spend either decreased or remained the same between 2014 and 2015. “This led to an increase in global shrinkage,” they state.


Multiple strategies

So your retail business commits to investing in loss prevention, but where should that hard-earned dollar go?

Well according to the Theft Barometer and other leading industry experts, it should be spent on multiple security strategies to thwart the tech savvy thief.

In 2014-15 these included:

  • Electronic article surveillance
  • Spider wraps and security keepers
  • Advanced inventory security control tactics i.e. secure cables
  • Shelving solutions and delayed fixtures
  • RFID based EAS
  • EAS pedestal analytic data tools

But loss prevention isn’t just confined to technology; store layout and staff training also play a role. Experts note strategies as simple as allocating a staff member to meet and greet clientele can provide a real dent in stock loss. Meanwhile store layout with a clear line of sight to popular theft items also deters would-be thieves.



It’s all very well to invest in the most popular loss prevention strategies, but retailers also need to be aware how security strategies evolve and improve in the constant bid to thwart an increasingly adept thief.

As noted in Schneider Electric’s comprehensive analysis of retail loss prevention: “Today’s offenders are savvy criminals who know all too well how to manipulate traditional security systems to their own advantage; so, to stay ahead in the perpetual struggle between criminal and retailer, LP (loss prevention) programs must strengthen these systems with the newest and most innovative capabilities.”


Technology improvements

The fact is retail loss prevention methods continue to evolve year in year out with modern technology like the Internet of Things and data analytics along with physical improvements all working to minimise loss.

However many retailers still continue to rollout the very same security measures and hardware they implemented way back in the 90s. Why is this? The common feedback being we have invested too much in the old hardware to change now. Yet it is highly likely these very same retailers have revamped all other facets of their business but continue with outdated security hardware from another century.



Take for example electronic article surveillance or EAS. First invented in the 1960s, the technology has been consistently improving for over 50 years to incorporate small labels and tags that are appropriate for a variety of products yet impervious to removal or screening.

While offering greater security and deterrence, they also need to carefully balance the issue of being non-imposing for genuine consumers looking to experience a potential purchase in-store.

And all this against a backdrop where finding out how to remove older EAS tagging can be as simple as Googling one of the most popular searches on the internet: “How to remove a security tag”.

As a result some EAS security tags manufacturers are embracing new techniques. State of the art options like the Boss Tags XT range offer further security against unauthorised removal courtesy of a unique design and detacher mechanism.

Based on years of feedback from retailers, they are smaller, lighter, yet more secure than traditional tags with a revised design specifically for the Australian market.

These subtle yet advanced features are compatible with all existing security technologies at a price in line with old technology security tags.



But it’s not just EAS shifting the goalposts of retail security. CCTV has also come on in leaps and bounds over the years. When first introduced, footage had to be physically watched to catch thieves at play, but the ability to record vision in the 1970s changed the playing field.

Fast forward 40 years to an era when months of footage can be stored as data and viewed from anywhere in the world, and networked with other security agencies, the industry is light years from its genesis. And that’s not to mention the current shift to facial recognition software that allows cameras to identify known thieves.


Meanwhile the current take-up of RFID EAS that allows retailers to track their stock, monitor their inventory and gain a real insight into customer and sales analytics is only set to improve security further in the coming years. In fact the take-up is so rapid an IDTechEx report found that in 2015, the total RFID market was worth $10.1 billion, but was expected to rise to $13.2 billion in 2020.

The final word

While retail theft is not a costly problem likely to be eliminated in the blink of an eye, the key to mitigation is investment, upgrade and multiple strategies. Only then does the industry stand any chance of staying ahead of the game.