Effective Loss Prevention Strategies for Small Business Retailers

Operating a small business, store-based retail establishment means you need to be constantly aware of potential losses and stock shrinkage. From shoplifting and employee theft to incorrect pricing and administration errors, there are several steps you can take to keep your retail losses to a minimum.

Let’s explore how you can create an effective loss prevention plan.

Understand the Factors that Are Causing the Most Retail Loss 

Every retail business will experience shrinkage differently. Before you decide on your most effective prevention strategies, it’s important to know what’s causing loss right now. There are several causes that contribute to losing inventory and profits:

  • Shoplifting: Direct theft of merchandise by people in the store.
  • Returns fraud: People returning stolen, used, or other problematic products and falsely claiming money back.
  • Employee theft: Employees who steal your inventory, money, or other business assets.

You address each of these retail loss problems in a slightly different way. You can prioritize the most important areas by carrying out stock checks and analyzing financial reports to understand the main drivers. Once you know the contributing factors, you can start putting loss prevention strategies in place.

Retail Loss Prevention Tips for Shoplifting

Reducing shoplifting requires a combination of staff training, good store layout, and surveillance technology.

Train Your Employees to Assist Customers and Watch for Signs of Theft

Your staff are your most powerful defense against customer theft. Provide training and support to deter shoplifting loss:

  • Hiring staff for a friendly approach and confidence: Encourage retail workers to approach customers and ask how they can help. Thieves will be dissuaded if they know that employees have noticed them.
  • Train staff to look for unusual customer behavior: Thieves may behave in unusual ways. Picking up and replacing products, looking around them to see if they’re being observed, and moving away if they spot an employee. Train your workforce to look for these signs.
  • Remember that shoplifting isn’t just about concealment: Be on the lookout for customers swapping price tags or moving products between packaging.
  • Encourage staff to report anything suspicious: Have clear protocols in place if a retail worker suspects shoplifting. This may involve notifying others, approaching the customer with an offer to help, and other techniques to discourage theft.

Organize Your Store to Make Shoplifting Harder

Your store design and layout can make things more difficult for thieves:

  • Use slightly wider aisles with good sightlines: Thieves will find it harder to be secretive and staff can unobtrusively observe customers.
  • Eliminate blindspots: Your camera and security systems should have excellent coverage of all areas of your store.
  • Secure expensive or easily concealable products: Lock away your more expensive and tempting products in glass cases.

Use Technology to Monitor Products and Customers

You have a few options for surveillance and product protection:

  • Install a security camera system: The simplest form of technology will be to put video cameras in place that can monitor your entire store. There are plenty of options for the best surveillance systems for retail stores, and we recommend asking your peers about the cameras that work for them.
  • Put up highly visible signage: Let customers know they are being monitored. Ensure that they can see cameras throughout your store and hand signs that tell them they’re under surveillance.
  • Tag products and use barrier sensors: The tag and exit sensor system is a powerful line of defense against shoplifting. Be aware that these systems are best used against shoplifters simply trying to conceal items, and that they won’t be effective against price tag or product packaging swaps.

Retail Loss Prevention Tips for Returns Fraud

Returns fraud happens when a customer tries to claim a refund for an item they have obtained through deceptive means.

Understand the Types of Return Frauds that Can Happen

Thieves have a variety of techniques for returning items fraudulently:

  • Stealing merchandise and then returning it for a refund.
  • Buying merchandise, using it, and then returning it.
  • Copying and counterfeiting receipts and returning items.
  • Purchasing products with counterfeit money, then returning the item and getting genuine cash in exchange.
  • Buying a new product that’s identical to something the customer owns and then returning the old product and claiming a refund. 

Insist on Receipts and Customer Information for Returning Items

The most effective way of preventing this fraud is through good receipt hygiene:

  • Require a receipt for all types of returns, with no exceptions.
  • Ask customers to provide personal information when returning items.
  • Limit returns to within 30 days of the receipt date.
  • Ensure that the goods the customer is returning match the receipt.

Use Strict Policies on How You Refund Goods

Use the following approaches:

  • Train staff to identify returns fraud and guide them on what to look for.
  • Always issue refunds to the payment method used originally.
  • Do not issue monetary refunds if there is no receipt, instead offer store credit, an exchange for an identical item, or store gift cards.

Retail Loss Prevention Tips for Employee Theft

Deceptive employees are often the second-biggest cause of retail loss after customers stealing items.

Learn the Most Common Ways Employees Cause Retail Losses

  • Directly stealing retail merchandise, just as shoplifters do.
  • Creating fake returns on items and pocketing the cash without returning an item to stock.
  • Stealing customer credit card numbers and using the details for purchases.
  • Using their employee discount inappropriately for friends or family.
  • Not ringing up every item a friend or family member buys.
  • Stealing directly from the cash register.

Hire Staff for Their Approach and Integrity

It’s important to have strong hiring practices when you’re bringing someone new into the retail workforce:

  • Ask for demonstration of honesty and integrity during the interview process.
  • Obtain professional references from previous employers.
  • Get interviewees to demonstrate how they would deal with a fraudulent situation.

Provide Incentives for Minimizing Retail Shrinkage

  • Tie a reduction in fraud, shoplifting, and other losses to a benefit for the employees. This might be bonus pay or an extra few days of vacation.
  • Carry out training to help employees spot potential theft or fraud from their colleagues.
  • Create channels so that employees can report suspicious activities from other staff without inviting retribution.
  • Focus on the culture of your retail operations and help employees feel responsible for the overall success of the store and creating a better atmosphere for everyone. 

Implementing these retail loss prevention strategies will significantly reduce the amount of stock and money you lose to theft and other shrinkage. Implement these techniques, monitor the results, and tweak over time until you get losses down to a minimum.

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Disclaimer:  the information provided on this page is meant for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current resources and recommendations available. Please consult with your financial, tax, legal, and other relevant advisors when making decisions about your small business.