When organized retail crime rises, store-level awareness needs to, too

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Mom isn't the only one making a shopping list these days. And any of those extreme couponers armed with a pair of scissors, a load of circulars and coupon clippings, and a shopping list of their own, well, they're not the problem, either. The problem is the leaders of organized retail crime units who are making those shopping lists, walking into a store, hitting a display case and walking right back out — all before the manager has a chance to say, "Um, excuse me sir? Can I help you?"

(THE NEWS: Survey: Organized retail crime, individual shoplifting both on the rise. For the full story, click here.)

The appeal of organized retail crime is simple: it's a low risk (as in not getting caught) with a decent return on investment (it's 100% "profit"). And it's easier-than-ever-before to unload those stolen goods with the number of online sales sites (i.e., e-Bay and Craigslist) and local flea markets. And for the average consumers these days, a bargain is a bargain. In today's economy, what consumer is wondering if that great deal they just negotiated came courtesy of something falling off of a truck?

So the question is what to do about it? "Retailers are really working a number of different ways to combat the problem, Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection advisor for the National Retail Federation, told the hosts of CNBC’s Squawk on the Street earlier this summer. "Starting with store training, employees, really an organizational approach, working with law enforcement and then also pushing legislation at the federal and state levels.

But to LaRocca's point, it really all begins at the store level with awareness. Simply greeting all customers at the door raises the risk factor a little, because now an employee has seen and engaged that potential shoplifter. Another best practice is maintaining an awareness of when someone is spending some time within the blind spots of an aisle — those areas that are not in the field of view of either security cameras or in the line-of-sight from the cash register. Those blind spots are easy enough to find after the fact — it's where all of the security tags have been removed prior to that shoplifter exiting the store.

According to that RILA survey, the most effective external theft prevention strategies identified by retailers included customer service, merchandise protection strategies and electronic article surveillance.

Both RILA and NRF, which put out its crime survey paper in June, also support (and have been lobbying in favor of) legislation that would skew the risk:benefit:consequence-if-caught scenario to a lot more risk, a lot less benefit and more severe consequences.

For the full NRF report and what legislative battles are happening where, click here.