Preventing retail theft - a quick-start guide

Retail theft reached its highest level for nine years during 2013.

This is according to new figures from the British Retail Consortium, which suggest that robberies increased by 48 per cent over the year.

Although burglaries fell by 49 per cent year on year, the total cost of theft has risen by 166 per cent over the course of the last five years. The total cost of crime to businesses rose by 15.6 per cent during the year, to £1.6 billion.

Theft is clearly a major problem facing the country’s retailers and, in these straightened times, it is one that most are particularly keen to mitigate. So how can you protect your retail premises from theft?

Training

Training is a vital first consideration if you want to protect your business from theft. Your staff are your first line of defence, and it is important that they have all the skills they need.

Police forces across the country recommend providing your staff with 15 minute ‘refresher’ training each week to ensure that they are alert and alive to the potential risks. Make sure that they understand the potential risk points, including items that are most likely to be targeted and, if relevant, individuals who are banned from your premises. Write a security policy and circulate it amongst your staff. Make sure that it includes information on what to do if a suspicious person is seen in the store – for example, you might encourage your staff to ask them if they need help, or simply make themselves busy near to the individual in question. Often this will be a sufficient deterrent.

Physical security

In addition to your staff it is also important that you invest in some physical security items to prevent thefts happening in the first place. These might include:

- CCTV. A properly maintained CCTV system can be highly effective not only as a deterrent but also as a means of catching thieves when things are stolen. You should remember, however, that there are data protection laws to which you will have to adhere, more information on which are available on the Information Commissioner’s website.
- Alarm systems. An alarm system should be at the heart of your security practices. You should ensure that your premises alarm is in good working order, but you might also consider investing in separate alarm loops for high value items.
- Dummy goods. Northumbria Police recommend using dummy goods. They say: “Empty display boxes or disabled products can help to reduce theft of electrical goods, music, or other high risk or small items.
- Mirrors. Well-placed mirrors can help you and your staff keep a better eye on your premises, even if you are stationary for most of the time.
- Shopfront security. This might include grates or pull-down protection for the front of your store. If this is not practical, you might consider installing moveable bars across windows. You should also make sure that any access points away from the street are properly secured.

Your insurance policy may specify security arrangements. It is vital that you read and understand your policy documents carefully to ensure that you are properly covered.