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article / May 23, 2023

The complete guide to loss prevention

An array of wine shelves line the bottom floor of a multi-story shopping center.

Discover everything a business needs to mitigate losses caused by shoplifting and organized retail crime

Theft has long been a problem for retail businesses. When businesses lose inventory, they’re not just losing profits – employees lose out on wages, and legitimate customers lose the opportunity to buy the products they need. Retail theft has risen substantially over the past few years, and even large businesses like Walmart are feeling the crunch.

Loss prevention is a crucial weapon in the retail owner’s arsenal to combat this rise in shoplifting. But what is loss prevention exactly, and what strategies can your retail business employ to curtail it? Read on to learn everything you need to know about maximizing your loss prevention efforts and stamping out retail theft for good.

What is loss prevention in retail, and why is it important?

Loss prevention is a retail practice that involves the creation of teams and policies that aim to preserve profits by preventing the loss of products, services or cash through unnecessary shrink. These losses can occur by accident through miscalculation, misplacement or other employee errors; they can also result from employee theft, shoplifting, inventory fraud or other malicious activity. With effective loss prevention policies and a trained team, businesses can prevent most of these actions before they happen and learn to spot them when they do.

Building effective loss prevention policies becomes more critical as thieves grow bolder and develop sophisticated shoplifting methods. According to Axon’s Retail Crime Report for 2023, nearly two-thirds of all retail employees have experienced some form of theft first-hand. Businesses like Target expect to lose $600 billion in their 2022 fiscal year due to organized retail crime, and the average dollar loss per robber grew to nearly $8,000 in 2020.  

Reducing theft and profit loss means staying on top of the latest methods thieves use to shoplift and adapting strategies to combat them. It also means understanding what thieves are targeting so you can better focus your loss prevention efforts. Read Axon’s report for more information about the impact of shoplifting and organized retail crime on the retail industry’s bottom line and how your business can prevent it.

Discover more information about the importance of loss prevention by reading loss prevention definition and statistics: what retailers need to know.

Organized retail crime remains a sustained threat to loss prevention

Beyond individual shoplifting incidents, organized retail crime represents one of the most significant obstacles for loss prevention teams. Unlike petty theft, which is usually committed by a single person, organized retail crime involves several individuals or entire theft rings working in concert to target one or more retail locations. 

Rather than shoplifting items for personal gain, organized retail crime operations seek out high-value objects that are easy to steal to resell these items for a profit. Valuable items include:

  • Personal electronics, like smartphones and home appliances.

  • Media, such as video games and movies.

  • Wearables, like jewelry and clothing.

  • Expensive consumable goods, including over-the-counter medication or baby formula.

According to a 2022 survey by the National Retail Federation, businesses have seen a 26.5% increase in organized retail crime incidents in 2021. Successful loss prevention efforts will take these groups into account and equip teams with the tools and resources needed to track and prevent these efforts before they strike.

Read how modern loss prevention investigators are combating organized retail crime to learn more about how to combat this growing retail threat.

Key job roles for loss prevention efforts

Loss prevention teams are composed of several individuals who bring a range of expertise to their retail organization. These roles fulfill needs including investigation, policy creation, and direct intervention. An effective loss prevention team should have one or several of these roles filled:

  • Loss prevention associate: An entry-level position that helps deter shrink by maintaining a presence throughout the store. Associates also help monitor security cameras and perform other critical guard functions.

  • Loss prevention specialist: Employees who take a more active role in guarding, monitoring, and developing policies that prevent theft.

  • Loss prevention investigator: Investigators use their analytical skills to detect who is responsible for inventory shrink. They may focus on internal or external cases and use a variety of techniques to catch thieves and prevent loss, including examining social media profiles, investigating online auction sites and more.

  • Loss prevention officer: Officers have several years of experience in security and may even have received a two-year criminal justice degree. This additional experience enables officers to take a more direct role in guarding and preventing loss, including directly intervening when shoplifting occurs. Some officers may also be armed, depending on the business.

  • Loss prevention manager: Managers are responsible for overseeing the loss prevention department, monitoring employee performance and reporting to key executive stakeholders about the success of loss prevention efforts.

Read five key job roles for effective loss prevention programs for more details on how to set these loss prevention roles up for success.

Loss prevention services to protect your retail business

In addition to finding the right staff, your business will need the right equipment to survey the premises and analyze the data your loss prevention team collects. Several services exist to fill in any gaps your retail loss prevention efforts possess – here are a few essentials to consider that will amp up your security efforts.

  • Surveillance: Monitoring retail facilities requires more than installing cameras. You need to know where those cameras go and ample storage for archiving thousands of hours of footage. Surveillance services can help install stationary cameras and equip your loss prevention employees with body cameras to provide recording of incidents.

  • De-escalation techniques and equipment: Special equipment, such as TASER energy weapons, and training procedures provide employees with tools to prevent loss prevention scenarios from escalating out of control.

  • Data management: Analysis of reports, camera footage, and other data can help your business detect unlawful activity and spot trends that will enable you to anticipate and prevent future loss.

Discover other vital services by reading Loss prevention services: 5 essential features to consider.

Successful loss prevention strategies

Security cameras can help deter theft and track when it occurs, but successfully minimizing shrink requires integrating several techniques from staff members across your entire retail business. Implementing even some of these strategies can immediately reduce inventory loss.

  • In-store security patrol: Making your security officers’ presence visible throughout the store remains a popular and effective loss prevention tool. Equipping officers with body-worn cameras as they make their rounds can give your team a glimpse into areas of your store that fixed cameras might miss – and give you concrete footage should any incidents occur.

  • Excellent customer service: This is a technique anyone in the business can utilize. Attentive employees are a boon for legitimate customers looking for items to purchase. They also deter potential shoplifters by alerting them that their actions are likely being monitored.

  • Merchandise handling policies: Some shrink may be unintentional – an employee may discard a returned item instead of processing it back into inventory. Updating merchandise handling policies and educating staff can reduce unnecessary loss.

Learn more strategies by reading 7 Loss Prevention Examples That Work in 2023.

Loss prevention training programs

Regular training ensures your loss prevention team members have the skills to detect and intercept even the most sophisticated shoplifting schemes. These organizations provide initial and ongoing training programs, which may include formal certification to prove that employees have retained core concepts.

  • Axon provides security training through Axon Academy and offers instruction on record keeping, theft deterrence and de-escalation strategies. 

  • The Loss Prevention Academy offers courses for employees and managers, offering instruction on the basics of loss prevention as well as advanced topics like investigation, detection and interviewing skills.

  • The Loss Prevention Foundation offers several accredited courses, from the shorter LPQualified course that teaches the basics to the more in-depth LPCertified course, which can take up to 80 hours to complete.

Find the right training program for your retail business by reading 5 Loss Prevention Training Programs to Help Retailers Secure Their Products.

Level up your loss prevention efforts with Axon

Businesses lose nearly $100 billion a year due to inventory shrink – an aggressive and robust approach to loss prevention can reduce the financial impact on your business. Contact Axon today to discover how its modern approach to retail security can streamline data management, improve transparency and reduce theft at your retail location.