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Want to reduce retail theft this holiday season? Make customer service a priority

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From before Christmas (nowadays, as early as late October) to well into the New Year, retailers’ cash registers ring with the sounds of shoppers searching for bargains or buying holiday gifts for loved ones.

PwC Canada predicts that Canadians will spend an average of $1,593 on gifts before they ring in the new decade, up nearly 2 percent from the same period last year. But along with the yuletide windfall for retailers comes an annual challenge that can leave a proverbial lump of coal in their stockings: shoplifting.

Retail shrinkage is especially difficult to manage at a time when consumers are craving experiential relationships with their favorite retail brands. It’s the reason why Apple stores are jam-packed around the holidays (and throughout the year, for that matter) and trendy pop-up shops draw those who crave a different level of connection with the products they love.

In short, customers want to see, smell, touch and generally interact with merchandise, especially luxury brands. That creates a substantial security risk for retailers whose profit margins—and in some cases, very corporate survival—are being challenged as shoppers migrate online and into the arms of e-commerce giants such as Amazon.com. But putting merchandise under lock and key is simply not an acceptable solution when it comes to delivering the kind of experience that today’s consumers demand.

Instead, organizations should think strategically and design a holiday security plan that addresses the unique characteristics of their retail environment. That will mean embracing technological solutions from advanced HD camera systems to Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips on merchandise to deter would-be shoplifters. It means making your security presence felt through adequate staffing and the clear display of deterrents such as mirrors and signage reminding shoppers their movements are being monitored.

It means training staff to spot and confront prospective thieves in an effective manner before they can walk away with hundreds or thousands of dollars in goods. An equally important aspect of that training is teaching staff—many of whom will be part-time and seasonal, and therefore likely not as experienced as your full-time employees—to be aware of deliberate efforts to distract their attention. Creating a chaotic diversion is one of a thief’s (or group of thieves’) most effective tools to make off with hefty amounts of merchandise.

But there’s another, even more, effective tool to combat holiday-season shrinkage that could also deliver a competitive advantage to your company: providing high-touch customer service.

Now, there’s a fine line between being attentive and intrusive, and the best retailers manage to walk that tightrope with flair and finesse. But by training staff to go above and beyond to help customers without overdoing it, your store (or chain of stores) sends a message that it’s serious about putting a smile on shoppers’ faces. Doing so is also a red flag for would-be robbers who know that your people are not only attentive but on the lookout for trouble as they engage with customers.

Perhaps most importantly, providing great customer service is one of the most cost-effective theft reduction tools available. And, when done right, should also help increase sales this holiday season. That’s a strategy that any retailer can buy into.

Winston Stewart is the President and CEO of Wincon Security, a Scarborough, Ont.-based security firm that has delivered property monitoring and protective services to retail, commercial, industrial and condominium clients across the Greater Toronto Area for more than 25 years.

For more information, visit www.wincon-security.com

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