“You picked an interesting time to get involved in Retail Loss Prevention” was the first thing a close friend said to me. He has a gift for understatement.
Ensuring associate and guest safety during the pandemic has been a huge challenge for the industry, and as usual, retail professionals have risen to meet it. Unfortunately, retailers have just solved for this new normal when along comes an old problem, but on a vastly larger scale: Organized Retail Crime (ORC) and recidivist offending. It’s true that AP/LP is more important than ever.
Over the last several weeks I’ve had the privilege of talking to dozens of people in the industry, including AP/LP practitioners, retail executives, law enforcement officers, and solution providers - an incredible array of experience and wisdom.
Besides being struck by the high level of focus and commitment coming through from everyone I talked to, I was also surprised at how consistent everyone’s feedback was about the challenges that confront the industry, and what opportunities we have to deal with them. Reflecting on what I’ve heard, I think it all fits neatly into the well-used framework of mindset, skillset, and toolset.
"Store associates and managers are busy, and they don’t report incidents if it’s time consuming, reporting tools are difficult to use, or they know their current solution won’t lead to an apprehension / recovery. Our local law enforcement partners are great but they lack the resources to respond." - AP/LP Professionals
Solving something as complex and difficult as ORC and recidivist offending takes a team approach, and with any team, every player needs to know that the entire team has the same goal in mind to have a winning mindset and perform at their best. The team addressing retail crime is a complicated one, and ranges from store associates and managers, AP/LP professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, and legislators.
I have heard a lot of concern about whether the extended team dealing with retail crime in our communities has the time and resources to win, and how difficult it can be to keep a winning mindset in those circumstances. You can see these concerns reflected in the quotes throughout this article, which represent the essence of what I heard (paraphrased, of course).
"Retailers and their associates are our “customers”- they deserve our response. But we can’t devote resources to small retail crimes because we are stretched thin and our Prosecutors won’t bring charges for small crimes." - Law Enforcement Practitioners
The vicious cycle in these quotes is not universally true. There are plenty of strong extended teams working the retail crime problem across the country, and they are getting results. So what is driving success in some areas, whereas others are struggling to find a winning mindset?
In my informal discussions it seems to all boil down to awareness of what the modern retail crime problem really is - mostly the work of recidivist offenders and ORC groups, not opportunists or kids. When the whole extended team - public, lawmakers, prosecutors, law enforcement, and retail staff - all understand that retail crime really is major crime, the whole team is resourced and empowered to drive solutions. Laws are passed, cases are prioritized, investigations are closed, and offenders see the consequences of their actions.
I applaud the retail leaders who have made a point to call attention to ORC, like Corie Barry (Best Buy), Rodney McMullen (Kroger) and Mary Dillon (Ulta Beauty), amongst others. In fact, 20 CEOs representing some of the largest names in retail have (via RILA) urged Congress to act - another huge step forward.
We need to acknowledge that it’s a difficult decision to go public about these challenges, but it is absolutely the right step and a strong statement about prioritizing the safety of associates and guests above the perception of capital markets.
“We pursue the cases that we believe citizens want prosecuted and that lawmakers give us the tools to be successful with. Small retail crimes aren’t those cases.” - From former Assistant District Attorneys
My takeaway here is that we need to urgently build and maintain broad awareness of ORC and the risk it poses to our communities. We need everyone to have the same mindset- ORC is not just a threat to retailers’ profitability, it’s a threat to the community and everyone in it. Most importantly, we need leaders to continue to step forward across the board to educate the public and advocate with our lawmakers to recognize the seriousness of the problem that confronts the industry.
“We’re aware of the rise in retail crime, but you’ve seen the news - we have bigger fish to fry at this moment. We can work on legislation later in the year." - Sitting US Senator
The practitioner and law enforcement communities have spent decades developing a broad set of skills to address retail crime. I think every one of those skills is as relevant today as they ever were. After all, retail crime is still a human endeavour, and the time invested by the AP/LP and law enforcement communities to learn and predict criminal behavior is and always will be fundamental.
The new challenges we face today demand more, though. As I’ve made my rounds, I’ve heard consistent feedback about how collaboration between retailers and between retail and law enforcement demands new approaches, new processes, and yes, new skillsets.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the approach to ORC and investigations into people who offend repeatedly. As people who offend become more sophisticated and more geographically diverse, investigators are increasingly called upon to develop skills more traditionally seen in analysts or data scientists. Corporate staff must not only master these skills themselves, but also expand the coaching and advising partnership that they have with store managers and front line AP/LP.
Last but not least, as awareness of ORC rises, more attention from senior leaders will fall on AP/LP and store safety. Practitioners are beginning to think about the business and communication skills needed to confidently work alongside executive teams, both to secure new resources where required and to provide effective, ongoing updates on performance.
"A lot of these allegations of organized retail theft are not actually panning out.... I believe it’s a Walgreens in California cited it, but the data didn't back it up" - Influential member of the US Congressional delegation from New York
Auror is a technology company, so of course we like to point out how technology is an important toolset to address retail crime. In other parts of the world, retailers and law enforcement are also grappling with the retail crime pandemic. The data from Auror has helped shine the light on how much retail crime is occurring, the organized nature of it, and the connection to other crimes in the community.
Almost ten thousand sworn officers of New Zealand Police are now armed with this actual data, and better visibility of the scope of the problem has led the government to establish a first-of-its-kind nation-wide Retail Crime Task Force, focusing on the worst of the worst in retail crime, underpinned by the Auror platform.
Of course technology is important, but we can’t lose sight of the broader toolset that is available, mainly in the form of organizations and coalitions that bring together the extended team. The importance of supporting organizations that foster collaboration and education, or work together on policy, has been mentioned to me over and over again by many new friends and partners. Whether it’s joining (or starting!) an ORCA in your region, or getting more involved with industry organizations (CLEAR, LPF, NRF, RILA to name a few) that are dedicated to, or have practice areas for retail crime, there are great opportunities to keep building the toolset we use to address ORC.
Lastly, I can’t emphasize enough how often practitioners have mentioned “relationships'' as their most important toolset in the face of ORC. Relationships with store associates and managers, with merchants and operations leaders, with law enforcement, and with the solution provider community all play a role in ensuring that AP/LP pros are not trying to solve this massive problem alone. Take the time to build these relationships when you can, so that they are there when you need them.
While the challenges have probably never been greater, so too are the opportunities for new mindset, skillset, and toolset to use in response. And when you think about it, the growth of ORC actually creates an opportunity for AP/LP practitioners to move from doing good in their stores to doing good in their communities, since ORC offenders don’t limit their bad behavior to your stores. Getting these networks uncovered and into the judicial process is a win for everyone, not just retail shareholders. So I have to agree with my friend - it is an interesting time to get involved in Retail Loss Prevention.