Keeping an Eye on Things: Tips for Retail Loss Prevention & Data Security

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Shoplifting is an unfortunate fact of retail life, costing the industry millions of dollars every day. But you can improve your store’s loss prevention and data security through the strategic use of equipment, technology and practices like these.

Entry and Exit

Controlling traffic in and out of your store is crucial. A simple motion-detector doorbell lets you know someone’s come in or has left so you can stay aware. These are also helpful to restrict access to the backroom and fitting rooms, easy marks for shoplifters. Simply keeping fitting doors locked is a start, but there are higher-tech options like keycard systems (codes can be shared) and automatic door locks.


When Marnie Swedberg’s family bought Soulutions Variety Store in Warraod, MN, staff alerted the new owners about a rash of thefts from the boutique. “We installed cameras immediately,” she says. Hard wired or wireless security camera systems are both viable options. Additionally, strategically placed decorative and security mirrors create sightlines into store corners or secluded areas to improve surveillance.


When you can’t be in the store, detectors and alarms are your eyes and ears. Connect motion detectors to lighting and alarm systems to scare off thieves and alert you and the authorities that something’s amiss. Exterior lighting at entrances makes it easier for patrolling police officers to monitor your store.


Many retailers use signs to alert potential criminals that security cameras are in place or that you intend to prosecute. Just remember, consider your store and how the messages may be perceived by your clientele. What works in a convenience store might not work in a high-end boutique.


“After the horror of falsely accusing two customers based on camera-angle issues, we now rely on our cameras only for proof of what we've seen with our own eyes,” Swedberg says. When employees see something suspicious, they recruit another team member to make rounds past the offending parties until they leave or one of the employees actually sees something. “Last week, when a shoplifter was caught, video confirmed it for the court.”

POS Security

Make sure your POS system isn’t vulnerable. New chip-based credit card readers use a microchip embedded in the credit or debit card to verify the user’s identity, rather than sending CVV data over the Internet to the bank and back. This provides additional security for customers and reduces liability for shopkeepers. “Protecting the integrity of a customer’s data, his or her personal and credit card data, as well as purchase history, is part of maintaining that bond of trust, and could even be promoted to the customer base as a benefit,” says Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association in Martinsville, VA.

Cash Handling

Limit employee cash theft by reconciling the till before and after each shift. Make bank deposits nightly, storing only small amounts of cash in the safe or lock box, and leave cash register drawers open at night to show there’s no money in them. Place a light fixture or energy-efficient lamp nearby to illuminate the area.

Data Security

“It’s likely that the single biggest misconception about data is that if it’s contained inside the building envelope of a store, it will be safe from ‘data pickers,’” Smith says. People outside your shop can intercept sensitive financial information without anyone knowing. “If cellular phones work inside the store, then electronic signals can get in and out of that building.” New technologies like radio frequency–blocking window films allow specific signals — say, from cell phones — to be received and/or transmitted while keeping others out. The film is transparent, so it won’t interfere with window shopping, and can be tinted to block UV rays that fade merchandise. Some even improve shatter resistance.

Make Stealing Not Fun

Deploying technology and instituting practices pays off, Swedberg says. “As we've become a tougher target, we have significantly reduced the number of thieves who frequent the store. It's just not fun to try to steal from a place with good security.”

Unfortunately, though, you can’t eradicate loss completely. “If you catch someone, call the police — no exception,” says Sylvia Pacher, managing director of Corvinus Consulting Group, a security consulting firm in Washington, DC. “Never let anyone get away with theft.”

Margot Carmichael Lester grew up in her family’s gourmet grocery in Chapel Hill, NC, giving her a deep understanding of the challenges and rewards of working in retail. She also recently completed a two-year term on her local Chamber of Commerce board. A long-time business journalist, she writes regularly for the LA Business Journal and serves large and small enterprises through her company, The Word Factory. Connect with Margot on Google+.

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