Digital Retail & Technology | Loss Prevention

Helping retail loss prevention teams navigate the new considerations of a changing landscape

May 19, 2021

Retail Council of Canada brings together the industry’s thought leaders to discuss trends impacting the role of today’s loss prevention professional

Government-imposed public health protocols, social restrictions and lockdowns that have arisen because of the COVID-19 global pandemic have changed the way people do things the world over. Impacts on the retail sector have been significant, translating into levels of adversity unlike anything business has ever before faced.

For retail loss prevention teams charged with ensuring the safety and security of the business’ employees, customers and product, the shifts and accelerations in consumer behaviour mean that they have to rethink their strategies. They have had to leverage their creativity and innovation in order to pivot and respond to a whole new set of challenges.

Retail Council of Canada (RCC) recently held its virtual 2021 Retail Loss Prevention Forum to help address the evolving concerns of today’s loss prevention professionals and discuss the ways by which leaders within the industry are proactively producing effective solutions to protect their businesses. The forum provided virtual attendees thought leadership, critical insights into best practices with respect to day-to-day retail operations and an incredible opportunity to network with industry colleagues concerning the most pressing issues facing their industry today.

Disrupting organized crime

The scourge of organized retail crime (ORC) continues to cast a pall over retail operations, with the number of incidents escalating since the start of the pandemic. And, given the increasingly sophisticated means by which these groups, who often travel from region to region, striking neighbourhoods and cities indiscriminately, the role of loss prevention teams in curbing this very serious threat is critical. To help unpack this complicated issue for retailers and discuss some of the ways in which loss prevention teams can enhance the protection of their organizations, Nigel Ramoutar, External Fraud and Crime Specialist at Rexall Pharmacy Group Ltd., moderated a panel discussion.

“Retailers should be joining any networks that are available to them.”

Joined by Superintendent Robert Gourley, Halton Police, Burlington, ON, Stephanie Guilbeault, Acting Sergeant, Ottawa Police, and Officer Gary McCoy, Alternative Response Unit, Ottawa Police, the session focussed on the potential ramifications of ORC to retail operations, the trends that are related to the activities of these crime groups, as well as some of the proactive steps that can be taken by loss prevention teams in order to deal with the risk.

“Retailers should be joining any networks that are available to them,” says McCoy. “And if there aren’t any, they should create one themselves. Be proactive in hosting opportunities to get together with law enforcement partners, fellow loss prevention officers, community associations, city politicians and crown attorneys to hold ongoing dialogue. Creating these communities makes it easier for everyone impacted by these crimes to identify associated trends and more difficult for ORC groups to operate as efficiently as they’d like to.”

Responding to cyber attacks

Another threat wreaking havoc on retail operations is found within the digital world. Though perpetrated by living, breathing human beings, the veiled activities of cybercriminals allow them to conduct their misdeeds behind a screen and provide them both with relative anonymity and the digital tools they need to undo a business.

Detective Sergeant Vern Crowley, Cybercrime Investigations Team, Ontario Provincial Police, spoke to attendees about the ways in which a cyber threat and incident can occur as well as the potential ramifications to the retail bottom line and the steps that are required of organizations to properly deal with the issue.

“Developing a threat awareness through an understanding of relevant prevention information and adhering to best digital practices will be key.”

“Too often in Canada, cyber attacks go unreported,” he laments. “As a result, the attackers are emboldened knowing that law enforcement is unaware of the scope of the problem and that the incidents likely won’t be investigated. It’s imperative that any and all cyber attacks be reported to the police.”

He adds that, in tandem with the incident reporting to law enforcement, retailers must follow the procedures that have been outlined within their company’s cyber incident response plan. And, if a plan has not been developed, he suggests that it become a quick priority.

“When it comes to cybersecurity, developing a threat awareness through an understanding of relevant prevention information and adhering to best digital practices will be key. That’s where retailers and law enforcement will be able to make a difference, making it harder for cybercriminals to operate, thereby reducing the level of victimization.”

Wearable technology

As part of the Forum’s Sponsor Highlight, Rick Snook, Business Development Manager at Axis Communications, Inc. and Hedgie Bartol, Segment Development Manager, Retail at Axis Communications, Inc. delivered their quick assessment of the evolution of wearable technology and how it can be leveraged in the retail environment to help provide safer and more secure experiences for employees and guests.

The pair spoke about a recent project Axis participated in with the Loss Prevention Research Council and the many use cases for wearable technologies that came out of it, including the tracking of loss prevention and safety audits, and the enhancement of store walkthroughs and product delivery. As Bartol points out, the possible uses for such technology are seemingly endless.

“This type of technology has the capability to help retailers improve curbside pickup processes, enhance customer care interaction, provide audits of delivered items, as well as allow for the effective monitoring of a number of other health and safety issues. It’s really set to change the way retailers approach risk mitigation and ensure a safe and secure environment for their employees and customers.”

Minding the curb

As impacts of the pandemic continue to influence the way today’s consumer shops and accelerates online activity, retailers are faced with more adversity than ever before in providing a safe, secure and seamless environment in which to serve their customers.

To better understand how these changes in consumer behaviour are impacting retailers’ efforts to ensure a best-in-class experience during these difficult times, and to share insights concerning some of the incredible pivots being made by loss prevention teams in order to support their organization’s operations and service, Rita Estwick, Director, Security and Investigation Services at Canada Post, moderated a panel discussion with Best Buy Canada’s Christian Leadbeater, Vice President, Best Buy Business and Loss Prevention and Chris Sallans, Vice President, Retail & Service Operations & Fulfilment.

Reese believes that the evolution of current technologies is arming retailers with immense power and insights.

Speaking of the organization’s recent development of its curbside pickup option for customers, Sallans says that the current environment presented Canada’s leading electronics retailer with a monumental task.

“When your introducing curbside, you’re moving product through the store in a different way and sending an employee into the parking lot with a high-end item. We had to consider things like camera coverage, sight lines and internal processes to cut down on loss.”

His Best Buy colleague Leadbeater acknowledged the challenges that were presented, stating that impacts of the pandemic accelerated not only consumer behaviour, but the company’s digital strategy as well. He says that circumstances over the past year have helped the company to identify gaps in its processes today in order to deal effectively with a changed landscape, and suggests that other retailers do the same.

“Because increased online consumer activity is a shift that I don’t believe will subside at all post pandemic, it’s something that retailers have to be looking at now in order to continue dealing with increased online sales and the associated risks to the business.”

Tech stack considerations

The digitization of the retail environment has opened up an entirely new world of possibilities to engage with consumers, promote offerings and elevate the shopping experience to new heights. However, it’s also presenting information technology and loss prevention teams with complicated decisions to make regarding the development of the technology infrastructure to properly support their efforts.

“It’s presenting retailers with the opportunity to truly move from reactive systems to proactive systems to identify and mitigate loss before it happens.”

To help retailers navigate the complex considerations that are required when building their tech stack, Tony Hunt, General Manager Loss Prevention at London Drugs Ltd., conducted an interview-style discussion with Dan Reese, Retail Vertical Marketing Manager. North America, Bosch Building Technologies. Reese believes that the evolution of current technologies is arming retailers with immense power and insights.

“I really believe that we’re on the verge of a true step change in the analytics capabilities of security systems,” he asserts. “It’s being driven by important underlying technologies. The combination of the Internet of Things, where all devices are intelligent and connected, and artificial intelligence is bringing new levels of detection capabilities as well as increasing processing power. It’s presenting retailers with the opportunity to truly move from reactive systems to proactive systems to identify and mitigate loss before it happens.”

He recognizes how difficult it is for teams to stay on top of all of the most recent technology developments, but stresses that loss prevention professionals do their homework in order to make informed decisions concerning the tools they’re investing in.

“I highly recommend that all loss prevention professionals become intimately familiar with the subject of artificial intelligence and how devices powered with the technology can become incredibly effective tools to secure their businesses. Understanding its potential, and combining that understanding with an acute awareness of your current systems, including their capabilities and limitations, can really help to distinguish between overly-hyped sales pitches versus accurately represented systems that will help your organization.”

The value of community partnerships and engagement

When it comes to tackling the evolving issues of loss prevention today, and in seeking out newer solutions to the complex challenges that threaten the safety and security of retail organizations, sometimes a different perspective is required. At least, that’s what Sean Sportun, Security Professional and Chair at Crime Stoppers Toronto, believes.

Through a creative approach, leveraging thinking that intentionally challenges the conventional loss prevention paradigm, Sportun developed a strategy for Circle K to enhance its approach to loss. By developing relationships between the retailer and Crime Stoppers Toronto, local law enforcement, media and members of the community, it was able to increase engagement and involvement around the issue, which was supported by awareness campaigns and effective use of social media.

Circle K experienced a 67% reduction in youth crime, 68% decrease in robberies and, most importantly, a 92% decline in assaults.

“We wanted to think differently and challenge old ideas and ways of doing things and inspire our team to look at everything creatively and challenge conventions. When you do this, by leveraging creativity, your approach to problem solving changes and new perspectives suddenly develop. New ways of doing things present themselves.”

Results of Sportun’s new way of doing things were staggering. Circle K experienced a 67% reduction in youth crime, 68% decrease in robberies and, most importantly, a 92% decline in assaults. He recognizes the contributions that have been made by all stakeholders involved, stressing the importance and requirement of retailers to build strong relationships with like-minded groups in order to support their efforts in protecting their organizations against loss.

“Because of the partnerships that we built and engagement that was encouraged and facilitated, supported by strategic campaigns and messaging, Circle K was able to create a safer, more secure environment for its employees and customers. And, as a result, the surrounding communities were made that much safer. These results are a testament not only to the dedication of the Circle K team toward improving their loss prevention outcomes, but to the value of reevaluating traditional approaches and thinking differently when it comes to preventing loss and crime.”

A way forward

Given the recent pressures that have been faced by retail loss prevention teams amid a changed retail landscape, combined with the speed at which the retail industry moves, it’s clear that creativity and innovative approaches to loss are required more today than at any time previous. However, what’s just as evident is the fact that professionals at organizations across the country are stepping up to meet the challenge. And, through the development of strategic partnerships with local law enforcement, intra-industry collaboration and information sharing, the development and use of the right technologies and a continued focus on ensuring the security of the entire retail ecosystem, they’re helping to pave the way toward a safer and more profitable tomorrow.

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