In fact, according to the latest figures from the Local Data Company (LDC) and British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), the number of independent retailers that opened new stores last year was up four and a half percent.
Have you recently joined the ranks of Britain’s shopkeepers? Or are you thinking of opening your first store?
If so, you’re likely to be a very busy individual. Opening a new store is incredibly demanding, and a variety of new tasks are sure to be eating up your time. Nevertheless, it’s important you take some time to consider your store’s security.
Last year, the total direct cost of retail crime to the UK economy was £700 million. Shoplifting accounted for a whopping £500 million of the total figure, highlighting the fact that physical crime is still by far the most costly for retailers.
That said, fraud – the majority of which is now committed online – accounted for a further £155 million, which indicates that British retailers need to do more when it comes to protecting themselves from cybercrime.
To make things as easy as possible for you, we’ve compiled The Complete Retail Security Guide for First-Time Shop Owners. This guide will detail exactly what threats you are likely to encounter, as well as provide effective advice for how to best protect your store.
As with most things, getting the basics right is often the best way to ensure your business’s security. A good security strategy will cover all aspects of your business. This includes your:
Having procedures and policies in place to control these four elements is essential when it comes to putting a solid retail security foundation in place. No matter what you sell or where you are located, your business’s protection depends on a proper management of these areas. We will cover each of these in more detail later in this guide. However, here are some of the most fundamental factors that all store owners should consider.
Your staff are your first line of defence against crime. As such, it’s important that they work in accordance with best practice security techniques and understand the basics of retail security. Here are some things to consider when it comes to security and managing your people.
• Proper Staffing – To ensure that your staff are effective at preventing crime, always schedule an adequate number of employees to work at any one time. Thieves actively target understaffed shops since they know these are far easier to steal from. By having enough staff on the shop floor all the time, criminals are less likely to target your property.
• Secure Opening and Closing Procedures – At least two members of staff should be present when you open and close your shop. Unfortunately, the beginning and end of the day are popular times for thieves – who may use these as an opportunity to steal valuable items such as cash, stock and equipment. By having more than one person present, you will make your business less enticing to criminals.
• Effective Training – Without training, your staff will not be able to effectively prevent crime or know what to do if criminal activity takes place during their shift. Basic security training will teach them what to do when they spot suspicious behaviour, how to behave during a robbery, how to implement shoplifter prevention techniques, how to transport cash securely and more. We cover all this later in this guide. However, the key point here is that it’s not enough for you – the owner – to understand all this. You need to tell your staff, too.
Unfortunately, you will never be able to eliminate the possibility of shoplifting and retail crime occurring on your premises. However, there are several things you can do to your premises that can significantly reduce the chances of you becoming a victim of criminal activity.
• Knowledge of Access Points and Secure Locks – It’s important that you are aware of every possible point of entry to your store. This includes small windows, hollow roof spaces and back doors. Each of these should be properly secured using high-quality, professional-grade locks.
• Alarms and Signage – You may want to consider fitting an intruder alarm. Triggering the alarm will result in a rapid response from your provider – with trained security professionals arriving on the scene within minutes of any incidents. This dramatically increases the chances of stolen belongs being retrieved and the culprits being caught. Importantly, it’s well worth advertising the fact you have an intruder alarm fitted with clear signage – since this may deter potential thieves from attempting to access your premises. Topics could include:
– Details about your prosecution policy
– The number of prosecutions this month/year
– Your banning policy
– Notification of any security measures in place e.g., “CCTV in operation”.
• CCTV – Strategically placed CCTV cameras allow you – or an external provider – to monitor remote parts of your premises from a single location. They also provide you with a way to look back at historical events in order to ascertain whether a crime has been committed and who is responsible for it. Additionally, as with your intruder alarm, making it clear that CCTV is in operation on your premises will act as a further deterrent.
Selling products is what keeps your business going. As such, ensuring your stock is properly protected is an essential part of retail security. When stock is stolen, your business suffers financially. Moreover, by being unable to meet customer demand, losing stock risks damaging your brand.
• Restricted Access – Restrict access to storerooms and non-public areas. Make sure all stock is kept in a securely locked room which is clearly marked as “staff only” – since this will prevent genuine accidental entry and make feigned accidental entry less plausible.
• Preferred Routes– When staff travel between the staff room, storeroom or warehouse and the shop floor, tell them to take an elongated route that passes by your most valuable products. This will keep employee presence high around your priciest products and further deter criminals.
• Secure shelving – Fit shelves with a clear plastic restrictor front edge. This makes it harder for more than one item being selected at a time, making “grab and run” thefts much less likely.
• Neat and Tidy Displays – Keep all product display areas neat and tidy. This will allow your staff to spot any missing products quickly and better enable them to take appropriate action when it is required. This increases your chances of recovering stolen products and of holding the perpetrators responsible.
• High-Value Stock Display Levels – Keep the amount of high-value stock kept on the shop floor in line with what you realistically expect to sell in one day. It is better to err on the side of caution – it’s easy to replenish high-value stock as and when required; it’s much harder to retrieve stolen goods and track a criminal’s whereabouts.
• Cabinets and Alarms – If you sell particularly valuable goods (such as jewellery or watches) consider keeping them in locked glass cabinets. The glass does not interfere with a legitimate customer’s ability browse your products, but it does make it much more difficult for thieves to steal your most valuable items. Laminated glass provides the best resistance to impact, and alarms can be used to alert you to any attempted forced entry.
Electronic files and data can be extremely valuable. As such, criminals are increasingly involved in physical electronic data theft. This includes stealing computers, laptops, portable electronic devices and paper files. For retailers, the loss of such data can be catastrophic. As such, it’s crucial that you put in adequate measures to protect your data.
• Workstations and Laptops Precautions – By simply locking your workstations and laptop (and requiring a password to sign back in), you make it much, much harder for criminals looking to get their hands on your data to do so. Ensure that all workstations and laptops are password protected and locked (or, even better, switched off at the end of the day).
• Sensitive Document Concealment – Criminals will scope out a property before taking the risky step of breaking in. If papers containing sensitive information are visibly displayed strewn across a table, criminals are much more likely to make the decision to force entry. Remember, a single bank statement can be enough for criminals to withdraw or transfer money without your consent. As such, ensure all sensitive documents are concealed (preferably locked away in a filing cabinet) and or are otherwise stored out of sight.
• Redundant File Removal – Any files you are finished with (and which do not need to be archived) should be properly disposed of. This should be done with a shredder, and file remnants should be disposed of in multiple bags before being handed over to refuse collectors.
Your store should make committing a crime as difficult as possible. When deciding to engage in criminal activity, thieves will ask themselves three things:
• Does this store’s security appear poor?
• Do I have a good chance of getting caught committing this crime?
• If I get caught, will I be prosecuted?
By laying out your store in the proper way, you can make criminals answer “yes” to each of these. Doing so will discourage criminals targeting your shop, since the overall appearance of a store can be a strong deterring factor.
• Aisle Layout – Where you position products in your store is an important part of overall security. The four of the most popular store layouts are displayed below. Although the free flow layout may look visually appealing, it is often the hardest to monitor. In terms of security, the grid layout is often best since it affords criminals the fewest number of places to conceal their activities. Additionally, “face” valuable items – or position them on the edge of a shelf and only one layer deep.
• Blind Spot Mirrors – Use mirrors to make blind spots visible from your till area. By making all your blind spots visible, thieves will think twice about attempting to steal from you. And, if they do, you are more likely to spot them and be able to take the necessary action. CCTV can also be aimed at blind spots to give greater coverage and to provide evidence if a crime does take place.
• Till Placement – Position your till in the area which gives your staff the most visibility of the shop floor. Ideally, your counter should be deep to protect staff, and will be close to the main entry/exit point so that customers must pass a staff member when leaving your shop.
• Stock Placement – It’s worth storing high-value goods close to the till where they can be monitored at all times. Likewise, low value items should be placed near the exits and in hard-to-see-areas. Service-only items (such as alcohol and tobacco) should always be kept behind the till where possible.
• Entrances and Exits – Entrances and exits should be in areas which can be easily monitored by staff. You may also consider installing turnstiles to make entering and exiting your store more difficult, as well as a measured marker to make it easy to gauge how tall people are (which can be helpful when it comes to identifying criminals). For smaller stores, a welcome bell can be an effective way to inform staff when someone enters or exits your store. If you have CCTV, keep a camera consistently aimed at your entrances and exits.
• Windows and Displays – Ensure that your windows are always kept as clear as possible. This will make it easier for employees to spot suspicious activity outside, as well as aid police in the event of an incident (since it makes witnesses to the crime more likely and person/vehicle identification easier).
• Lighting – By keeping your store well lit, you can make it much harder for criminals to hide stolen goods on their person without being noticed. Thieves will take advantage of any dark areas – using them to conceal goods before they leave the premises. As such, make sure that dark areas (such as corners, corridors and doorways) are adequately lit.
Your staff are an invaluable resource when it comes to preventing crime on your premises. However, in order to be able to effectively prevent crime in a safe and professional manner, your staff should be properly trained about when and how to intervene, as well as how to report incidents to the police.
Before we get into all that, your staff can do some basic things that can dramatically reduce the chances of your store being targeted.
• Meet and Greet – The most effective way to prevent shoplifting is also the easiest. By having your staff meet and greet everyone who enters your store, you send a strong message to potential thieves: “you are being watched”. A friendly welcome will not put off legitimate customers – and will even make your store appear welcoming and friendly – however it can be enough to make someone think again about committing a crime.
• Displays and Work Areas – An untidy environment is much more appealing to thieves. All the chaos going on around them can make it easier to take something without being noticed. By keeping your shop clean and tidy, you will give shoplifters less opportunity to steal your wares. If stock – especially clothes and hangers – fall onto the floor, staff should return them to the appropriate place as soon as they can
• Attentive Attitude – It’s easy to get caught up chatting to a friendly customer. But your staff should remember to spread their attention over all customers as evenly as they can. A distracted member of staff is something criminals are on the look out for. So, encourage your staff to be polite, friendly and helpful – but make sure they’re always alert and don’t get caught up in unnecessary conversations.
• Correct Receipt Protocols – Every customer should be offered a receipt with their purchase. Ensure your store has a policy requiring receipts for cash refunds – and make sure your employees understand this rule. Any discarded receipts should be disposed of immediately.
• Secret Codes – Create a secret code which staff can use to alert each other that there is a criminal or suspected criminal in the store. This code should be kept secret and changed regularly to stop shoplifters cottoning on. Your code should not sound peculiar, so it may be wise to use a phrase that customers won’t be surprised to hear – e.g., “Mr Foster is on the phone.”
You and your staff should also know how to spot a suspicious shopper. Although it is impossible to tell whether someone is a criminal just by looking at them, there are several things that should set alarm bells ringing – especially if a customer is demonstrating multiple behaviours.
Here are some things to look out for:
• Individuals spending a lot of time watching staff members.
• Individuals who appear nervous and are picking up items randomly without giving them much attention.
• Individuals who repeatedly refuse offers of help.
• Individuals who frequently enter your store but who rarely (if ever) make a purchase.
• Individuals who enter your store just after opening or just before closing.
• Individuals moving in a strange way (using small steps, for example) since this could indicate they are concealing something on their person.
• Individuals wearing heavy, bulky clothes even when unnecessary.
• Individuals carrying large bags or large coats.
• Individuals entering the store in a large group and then going off on their own.
You need to create a policy which informs staff of what to do if they witness shoplifting taking place. Staff should never put themselves in any danger, and your policy will make staff safety an absolute priority. A well-trained team working to proper protocols will make crime prevention in your store much more effective.
Your staff should be made aware of your store banning policy. Your shop, just like your house, is a private residence. And that means you have the right to ask anyone who you don’t want on your premises to leave, as well as inform them that they are not welcome back. Since your staff will likely be the ones carrying out such bans, you should make them aware of your policy – which will involve politely asking individuals to leave and making them aware that if they return, you will alert the police.
In general, your staff should be focused on preventing shoplifting from taking place rather than apprehending suspected shoplifters. As such, you should never put pressure on employees to approach a suspected shoplifter – and, ultimately, it is always their decision whether they do so or not.
If a member of your team is certain they’ve witnessed someone stealing, and they feel comfortable approaching them, they may ask them politely to put the item back (ensuring to keep their tone neutral). However, shoplifters may feel threatened when confronted, and your employee should back off as soon as they become uncomfortable.
Regardless of whether they choose to approach a suspected shoplifter or not, employees who’ve witnessed a crime should call 999 (as well as alert in-store security, if you have it) immediately. The police will be able to help, begin their investigations (collecting witness statements, reviewing CCTV footage and gathering evidence) and detain the suspect.
Proper cash handling is essential if you want to ensure your business is maximally secure. Cash is arguably the most valuable belonging in any shop, which makes it particularly interesting for thieves.
• Tills – Keep the amount of cash stored in your tills to a minimum. Conduct regular till lifts and store most cash in a secure location, out of reach from the general public.
• Banking – Bank cash frequently, always counting cash out of view and, preferably, in a locked room. Your policy should dictate that two members of staff should be present when banking. Do not visit the bank on a regular schedule. By going at different times, criminals will not be able to plan a crime based on your habits. Never carry cash openly or in cash bags.
• Secure Safe – Store cash in a secure safe, i.e., one requiring two keys to unlock and protected by an alarm monitor. Advertise this policy publicly with a notice position on or near to the safe. Keep your safe out of view from the public and fix it securely to an immovable object.
• Weekends and Holidays – Ensure that no cash is left on your premises over the weekends or through any period of closure longer than 16 hours. Criminals may target properties they believe to be unoccupied for a significant amount of time.
• Overnight – Never store any cash in tills overnight. Leave all tills empty with the drawers open.
If you operate a clothes store, you will likely have in-store fitting rooms so that customers can try on items before making a purchase. These areas, by their nature, need to be hidden from view. As such, they are often abused by shoplifters looking for a private place to commit a crime.
• Lock Fitting Rooms – If you run a small store, you can lock your fitting room when it’s not in use. Customers can be informed of this policy with suitable signage, and it allows you to monitor exactly who is in the fitting room and when.
• Attendants – If you run a larger store, with multiple fitting rooms, station a member of staff as a permanent fitting room attendant. This employee can assist with customer enquiries and monitor how many items people take into the fitting room with them. Number tags can help staff keep track of how many items individuals have at busy times of the day.
• Garment Limits – It may be worth limiting the number of garments you allow individuals to try on at once. A good maximum number is five, since this affords customers adequate choice without items becoming too difficult to count.
• Smooth Walls – To make it difficult for thieves to hide price tags, keep your fitting room walls smooth and clear of pictures. Mirrors should be caulked at the edges and you should avoid carpeting the room – since shoplifters can exploit these to hide labels.
• Door Gaps – Doors should not extend completely to the floor. Leaving a gap of a few inches does not interfere with privacy but does have the psychological effect of making criminals feel as though they have less privacy.
• CCTV and Lighting – Bright lighting aids legitimate shoppers. However, combined with a CCTV camera positioned on your fitting room exit, it will also make thieves more wary about attempting to steal from your store.
We’ve mentioned CCTV a few times in this guide already. CCTV is an incredibly effective method of deterring criminals as well as for gathering evidence when a crime does take place. A good CCTV system can be monitored remotely, giving you peace of mind and allowing you to outsource monitoring work to a third party, should you wish to.
If you install CCTV, make sure that you do so in a legal fashion. We have detailed the current legislation and given some tips for how to remain compliant here.
By adhering to CCTV best practice, you will give yourself the best possibility of deterring criminals and catching anyone who attempts to steal from you.
• Lighting and Line of Sight – If you’re using CCTV, you need to make sure the footage is clear. A good CCTV system is essential for this, as is proper lighting. Make sure any areas with CCTV monitoring are well lit and that nothing is obscuring their line of sight. Movement sensor lighting can be used for interior and exterior areas within a CCTV camera sight line for energy efficiency overnight.
• Positioning – CCTV cameras should monitor important areas of your business. This includes entrances and exits, your till area, your storeroom, staff rooms, outside of fitting rooms, delivery zones and the shop floor.
• Maintenance – It’s crucial that you carry out regular checks and maintenance on your CCTV system. A good CCTV provider will carry out this work on your behalf – usually every six to twelve months. But remember, even a smudge on a camera lens can prevent a prosecution. So, make sure your system is working properly.
Retail security officers can provide an essential role in loss prevention, acting as an incredibly effective visual deterrent as well as rapid response solution to criminal activity on your premises. There are three primary professional retail security options available. The best one for you will depend on your specific requirements.
• Manned/Static Security Officers– Manned security officers will remain on your premises for the entirety of your opening hours. These officers have the power to use physical intervention to restrain criminals until emergency responders arrive. A highly trained security officer will be able to spot suspicious activity, monitor potential thieves and provide additional services such as health and safety and first aid.
• Mobile Retail Security Officers – Mobile retail security officers will cover several premises located nearby to one another. As such, they are often used in shopping centres, retail parks and some high streets. Mobile security officers often work in teams, communicating with each other in order to effectively deter and restrain criminals.
• Store Detectives – Store detectives patrol one or more retail premises in plain clothes so as not to draw attention to themselves. They will follow and monitor people acting suspiciously in order to gather evidence about crimes, minimise loss and apprehend active criminals. Store detectives are especially effective when it comes to dealing with repeat offenders and in particularly busy premises.
A good security company will only provide properly trained, SIA licensed security personnel. Security staff will be properly trained in physical intervention techniques, crowd control, up-to-date security best practice techniques, CCTV monitoring, loss prevention, basic maintenance and more.
In addition to everything we’ve covered so far, there are several other security measures you may wish to implement. Though not suitable for all businesses, some retailers will benefit significantly from using one or more of these.
• Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) Systems – EAS systems use tags to alert you when an item is removed from your store before it has been purchased. Tags should be placed on clothes in discrete locations and, preferably, multiple tags should be used on each item. If you can’t afford a fully-operational EAS system, it’s possible to buy recycled tags from suppliers for use as a deterrent.
• Purchek and Similar Systems – Purchek is an anti-theft system designed to eliminate push out theft (when someone leaves with a full trolley of unpaid goods). The system works by locking the wheels on any shopping trolley that has not been through a checkout area if it is used to move items outside of the store.
• Smoke Cloaks – When a smoke cloak is triggered, a harmless white coloured fog is released into the target area. When released, a pre-recorded message will play alerting people in the vicinity that the fog is harmless and that there is no need for concern. These are typically used to tackle burglaries and robberies by reducing the perpetrator’s vision.
• Dummy Cameras and Alarms – Dummy cameras and alarm systems are non-operational devices that are placed within a store to give the impression that increased security measures are in place. These can be effective in stores which cannot afford an operational system. However, seasoned offenders may have a good knowledge of how to spot dummy cameras and alarms – so make sure yours are as realistic as possible.
The most prolific shoplifters commit crime repeatedly. To do so without getting caught, they often use well-thought out techniques. By understanding the most common of these, you and your employees will be better placed to spot them and respond appropriately.
• Drop and Run – The drop and run technique involves the thief placing a large open bag at their feet. Multiple items are discretely dropped in the bag, before the perpetrator exits your shop without paying. This technique is usually used by seasoned shoplifters who are very good at dropping items into their bag unobserved. The bag is often a rucksack, so look out for shoppers carrying open bags.
• Pushchair Raiding – Mothers are often overlooked when it comes to spotting suspicious individuals. As such, some thieves will use a pushchair to make them appear trustworthy and as a place to store stolen goods. Look out for pushchairs without a child in them or with lots of loose blankets gathered in the seat. Some mothers may even commit crimes while their child is present.
• The Umbrella Snatch – A closed (but not snapped) umbrella provides the perfect place to conceal unpaid for items. Thieves will often hang the umbrella from their arm or lean it on a counter, before surreptitiously dropping or placing items inside. Keep an eye out for anyone carrying a closed umbrella.
• Doubling Up – Some thieves will make a legitimate purchase from your store. However, they may conceal one or more unpaid for items within the one they buy. For example, a thief may purchase a cushion, which is paid for in the usual way, but which they have filled with other, smaller products before proceeding to your till. To avoid this, make sure you inspect items before selling them.
• The Walk Out – Sometimes, the most obvious thing is the hardest to spot. Some shoplifters will overtly pick up products, wander around with them, before exiting your shop with the goods still visible in their hands. This technique relies on the shoplifter assuming a non-suspicious appearance and acting casually. They may even speak to employees in order to further bolster trust. This approach is most successful during busy times of the day and is best countered with robust surveillance.
• Distraction Techniques – Shoplifters operate in groups. One member of the group will create a distraction (perhaps by being rude to staff or customers, feigning illness or dropping a product) while the others use your staff’s lack of attention to pilfer goods. If an incident occurs in your store, make sure at least one person is keeping an eye on what’s going on elsewhere on your premises.
Most of this guide has been focused on shoplifting. Shoplifting is the most common type of retail crime and the one you are likely to encounter most. However, some criminals may resort to robbery in order to increase their takings. Robbery is a much more dangerous crime, and it’s important you and your team know what to do if one occurs.
Unfortunately, robbers are often armed, aggressive and experienced. As such, it is always better to go along with their scheme than to try and resist it. Although people who manage to restrain or deter robbers are celebrated in the news and online as heroes, many people who attempt to intervene are unsuccessful and could end up injured.
If a robbery occurs, you and your staff should:
• Remain calm.
• Comply with the orders.
• Activate an alarm only if you can do so discretely.
• Obtain the best possible description of the perpetrators (including gait, mannerisms, speech as well as vehicle descriptions and number plates if possible).
• Give the offender time to leave.
• Note the direction of travel.
After the robbery has occurred and the perpetrators have left:
• Call the police.
• Close the business and secure the doors.
• Do not discuss the robbery with witnesses since doing so may undermine their accounts if heard at court.
• Do not touch anything the offender may have touched or walked on – since these items may provide essential forensic evidence.
Churchill Security is a nationwide security company and a trusted provider of bespoke retail security solutions. If you’d like to find out how we can help you secure your business, get in touch.