Tips That I Wish I Had Learned Before Entering Loss Prevention      

Loss Prevention is a wonderful career choice that can lead to other positions in retail. There are, however tips I wish I had known before I began the job that would have prepared me for the adventure I was about to embark on. I started out in a Loss Prevention Associate position after spending four years as a U.S. Air Force Law Enforcement Specialist and another 2 ½ years earning a Bachelor’s Degree.  I was offered the position and to be honest I went into it with the mindset that this was a Law Enforcement position in civilian clothing. There was nothing that really dissuaded me from the notion as I was taught to catch shoplifters, use closed circuit television cameras and electronic article surveillance equipment. I assisted with employee theft cases but these were few and far between. It was not until later when I had been a Loss Prevention Manager for several years before I started to understand the real role of Loss Prevention in a store. With this is mind there are some things that I would like share with those entering the profession that can be eye opening and prepare them for the job ahead.

  • You are not the retail police – Unfortunately it is easy to fall into the trap of believing you are an arm of the police department. You aren’t. You can and should build strong partnerships with police but you are not protecting the community. Your job is to make your store profitable. You need to learn about stock shortage and all of the ways it happens. Yes, you need to learn to identify, prevent and maybe catch shoplifters. You also need to add to that knowledge how employee theft occurs, how to identify it and investigate it. You also need to understand vendor processes, how to read invoices and credits. You should spend time learning and stocking freight and where operational shortage takes place. Become intimately familiar with cashiering procedures and cash office functions. Each of these areas of responsibility impact store profits and the more you know the better you become at multiple areas of the store.
  • Hiring and Supervision – You may only be starting as a Loss Prevention Associate but if you are smart you will partner with the hiring manager. Ask to be part of the store application review process. Learn to look for the red flags on a candidate’s application or resume that could spell trouble if that person is hired. You can be a valuable partner in helping in the hiring process. As a Loss Prevention Manager you will review applications, resumes and conduct the interviews. You will need to know your company’s hiring process and whether it includes a drug test or background check. While we are discussing it lets also talk about who you decide to hire. Hire people with skill sets that are different from yours. While I would not discourage you from hiring someone with Loss Prevention experience be mindful that that candidate may be more difficult to train. They will bring along training from other retailers that may not be in keeping with your store best practices.
  • Trainer and Leader – Get ready to train others and not just Loss Prevention personnel. You will be training store associates on electronic article surveillance alarm response. You will train cashiers on till tap and short change artist prevention. You will train employees on robbery procedures. You may work with the stock team on how to identify mis-shipped merchandise. Show them how improper stocking affects shortage and inaccurate merchandise reordering. You could be required to conduct new hire orientations. You will also instill in the whole team the importance of customer service as a means of reducing theft but also how it drives sales. As a leader you will request appointments to meet with other managers and discuss operational matters. The more informed you are in how things work the better prepared you can be to help improve operational procedures.

Clearly there is much more that a Loss Prevention professional can add to the store than just being a person who catches shoplifters.

     The core roles and responsibilities of the Loss Prevention team entail the reduction of retail shrinkage and even maintaining a safe shopping environment. You may not be a first responder but you could be the first person called to an accident inside or outside the store. Frequently it is the Loss Prevention personnel who are first called to find a lost car, lost child or stolen purse. You will be the one who has to calm an irate customer. Learn from these tips I am sharing. You aren’t going to be a police officer, you are going to be a Retail Loss Prevention Professional and that is a quite a job! 

Setting Goals In L.P. Vs. Setting Quotas, What Are The Benefits And Costs?

Police hear it all the time when issuing tickets, “Need to make your quota for the month?” Usually it is a false question with a false premise that has been perpetuated over time. While there may be some police departments that set quotas they are the exception rather than the rule. Loss Prevention departments go through similar problems. Some people think that Loss Prevention staffs are out to rack up numbers any way they can get them. Most L.P. professionals are simply trying to catch shoplifters who are stealing and they want to apprehend dishonest employees to stop theft, prevent shrinkage and it can serve as a notice to other employees that theft won’t be tolerated. For some L.P. personnel there is a perceived pressure to “get more shoplifters” and in other cases it is real. For the retailer that is not able to pay for a Loss Prevention Staff, their concern is simply to drive the bad guys somewhere else and get rid of a crooked employee before they cause too much damage. Sometimes this is done using electronic article surveillance equipment from a company like Checkpoint Systems. They don’t feel the same pressure to “apprehend” but there is a sense of urgency in minimizing theft opportunities (how to do that becomes another matter).

     There are stores with a Loss Prevention hierarchy that sets “expectations” or “goals” for the apprehension of dishonest employees or shoplifters. The message that seems to get down to the store level is that there is always theft in a building, all the time. I have seen this lead to a requirement that stores have a minimum number of open internal investigations at all times. No pressure there, right? Wrong, the words may not be spoken but the message that is heard (correctly or incorrectly) is that cases will be successfully closed. And that implies that not doing so will impact an annual review. For most people, integrity will ensure they do not try to manipulate a case or make a shaky apprehension say for a single incident of grazing or snacking but do such cases exist? I suspected such activity was taking place at other stores but could not prove it.

     The same type of pressure can be felt by Loss Prevention Officers. They get on a cold streak and can’t seem to make an apprehension and the L.P. Manager starts to get questioned about low shoplifter numbers. No one says a specific number have to be caught but “guidelines” are established that say on average, x number of shoplifters should be apprehended for every x number of hours an Officer works. The Associate then begins taking more risks, focusing attention on high theft areas that carry more risk for making stops like in cosmetics and costume jewelry. The theft is taking place there but following all of the apprehension steps for such small pieces of merchandise can be very difficult. A suspect puts down an item without the Officer seeing it and a bad stop is made. Yes, it can happen with almost any piece of merchandise but those types of merchandise are extremely risky to make stops on. But, harder still is that the same L.P. Associate while told that apprehensions should be higher is also told to avoid risky stops on items like cosmetics or jewelry unless it is stolen along with other merchandise. This sends a mixed message to the Associate.

     None of this is to say that goals should not be set. Working without a goal is like running a race with no clear finish line. Goals can be set based on historical data or on the season of the year. Allowing an L.P. Associate to be part of the goal setting is also important. It is up to the Manager to make sure the goal is reasonable. A goal set too high can frustrate an Associate if they don’t achieve it. Setting reasonable goals also gives a boost to one’s self-esteem if they achieve it. A good Associate will also want to beat their last achievement but not at the risk of a bad stop.

     For L.P. Managers, setting internal apprehension goals is fine, but the bigger picture should be on achieving improved shortage results. Identifying and focusing on the core issues for the store, whether they are operational or theft related. An L.P. Manager engaged with the store team will be able to educate and train while picking up on suspicious employees who may need to be investigated. Don’t assume that low shortage results means no theft, it may mean L.P. knows where and when to focus its’ time and energy.