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Heist Busters

FMs are instrumental in beating organized retail crime.

By Myrna Traylor

For several years, retailers have been facing a growing trend: organized retail crime (ORC). Although there is no official category for this type of crime with law enforcement or insurers, the working definition is shoplifting with the intent to resell the merchandise in shady storefronts and, increasingly, online. The “organized” aspect comes in when the thieving is done by multiple perpetrators, and the reselling is overseen by one or more individuals. The whole operation may also be part of a larger professional criminal enterprise.

Paul Jones, Loss Prevention Foundation
Paul Jones, Loss Prevention Foundation

Paul Jones is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Loss Prevention Foundation, a nonprofit group that certifies retail managers and executives in loss prevention. “This is not an opportunistic crime, like someone trying to put food on the table for their kids,” Jones said. “These are people with the intent to resell the merchandise. And, unfortunately, it’s no longer just people wanting to steal and resell goods; it’s also people who have turned to violence when there’s a threat of apprehension. It’s created an unsafe environment for both the retailer’s employees and their customers.”

Jones and his peers recommend a “hand-in-glove relationship” between facilities managers and the head of loss prevention. That relationship may also extend to operations and site architecture. FMs who are working with the loss prevention team may support the installation of extra exterior lighting, cameras and special software. “The surroundings and the environment play a key role,” Jones continued. “Whether you’re in a mall or a [single] building, have a well-lit facility with cameras that can provide you actionable data, such as those tied into AI, facial recognition or license plate reader technology.”

Facilities managers should make use of overt tools, Jones said. “Some third-party companies supply setups in the parking lot with solar-powered lights and cameras that start automatically. When you leave your car, you already have the impression of safety, which is important for customers, as well as from a law enforcement and asset protection standpoint.” Cameras can record any incidents that happen in the parking lot, which is an extension of the consumer’s overall retail experience. “External cameras on the facility will give the customer — and the bad guys — the perception that you have the premises protected. The real criminals will still try to defeat it, but with the great systems, you can get the videos that you need if an incident must be reported to the police,” Jones said.


Interior Design

Once inside the facility, there are also features that can help limit shoplifting suited to the store format. FMs of grocery, home repair and big box stores may employ such items like shopping carts that can lock their wheels if a customer hasn’t paid.

Other retailers may rely on the space design itself. As Jones pointed out, “One of the old principles in apparel retailing used to be that you wanted the registers and the fitting rooms in the back because you wanted the customers to see as much merchandise on their way through the store. But I think, in today’s world, that setup has to change,” Jones said. “Particularly when sales are low and you reduce staffing, you have to have that register at the midpoint, where it can provide customer service and also serve as a deterrent to the bad guy.

“Creating a safer environment sometimes means barriers in stores, but no one has to go and apprehend the person — the thief just can’t move the goods. Most retailers have gotten away from loss prevention people making apprehensions because of the safety issues.”


Sound Strategies

Jones said that FMs need to be part of the team that implements and manages loss prevention strategies, and that team should include upper-level executives. “Any retail executive needs to look at the problems related to theft because it directly impacts the health and safety of their associates in the store — and their shareholder value if losses go up,” he said. “They should be concerned with organized retail crime and figuring out what they can do to partner [with the right team members], and facilities managers have been a good partner for their loss prevention teams, in my experience. The director of facilities needs to have a seat at the table with the loss prevention team.”  

To prepare for those discussions, FMs can educate themselves on the scope of the problem and possible solutions. The Loss Prevention Foundation hosts webinars on a variety of relevant topics. A second resource that Jones recommends is the Loss Prevention Research Council. “They do a deep dive with the leaders of loss prevention and solution providers and try to put science to solutions. They’ve done numerous studies on just about every solution out there and can be great assets to a facilities manager and loss prevention/asset protection executives.” 


Top 10 Retailer Types Targeted for ORC

  1. Pharmacy

  2. Big Box

  3. Home improvement

  4. Grocery

  5. Soft lines

  6. Electronics

  7. Luxury

  8. Specialty

  9. Dollar stores

  10. Cell phone stores


The Loss Prevention Foundation offers resources for facilities professionals about organized retail crime.

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