If you thought the festive season hit retailers in a short, sharp burst and then disappeared for another year, you’d be wrong. Forget peaks and troughs, the months surrounding Christmas are all about waves, and for most this occurs in three stages.
The first wave occurs in the months before the festive season, consisting of the organised shoppers who hit the high streets early to stock up on Christmas gifts and offers, in anticipation of wave two. Wave two occurs in the weeks and days running up to the 25th, where last-minute shoppers hurriedly trawl the shops making rushed purchases before the eleventh-hour strikes. Then, just as retailers begin celebrating another successful Christmas period, wave three occurs. This is the January sales surge and takes the form of millions of relentless shoppers swarming the high streets in a bid to hunt out the best bargains.
As with Christmas, the arrival of the sales season sees retailers up and down the country doing everything they can to maximise sales. And this means ensuring stock is available in the right place at the right time.
At this time of year, however, one of the main barriers to this is shoplifting. As stores get busier, thieves do too. According to the latest Global Retail Theft Barometer, last year saw UK retailers lose up to £3.4 billion largely as a result of shoplifting, and at no time was this more prominent than during the post Christmas sales dash.
However, losses of this kind can be tackled. The correlation between those retailers who pay attention to this area and the rate of shoplifting is clear. With the right techniques in place, it is entirely possible to reduce the threat. So how can this be done?
Firstly and most importantly we must look at merchandise, both in terms of its availability for shoppers, but also its accessibility to shoplifters. January sales bring an increased potential for impulse purchases, as shoppers leave the house looking for bargains rather than looking to purchase a specific product. This increases the emphasis on putting products in open display, where they can be stolen. So, what is great news for consumers – who want to examine a product before making a purchase – can be bad news for stores, who see an increase in shoplifting. Fortunately there are several solutions to this problem, notably good use of technology, and effective staff training.
The increased pressure to put goods on display means that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are increasingly important – with more goods to shoplift, there is greater need for the automatic alarms that RFID facilitates. Some large stores who serve huge numbers of customers may choose to increase focus on disposable adhesive “soft tags” (which can be applied at the factory if needs be), thus reducing the amount of time busy employees have to spend applying and removing magnetic “hard” tags.
Similarly, modern radar-equipped antennas can detect the products’ direction of movement and reduce false alarms – vital during the busy period when frequent alarms can distract staff. Other antennas can detect foil-lined bags of the type used by many of the professional thieves out in force in the first month of the year.
There are solutions beyond the world of technology too. The seasonal sales bring increased pressure on staff, and especially the temporary workers brought into deal with the increased footfall. All employees, permanent or temporary, need to be trained to spot the signs of shoplifting most prevalent in the January sales.
These are just a few of the many preventative measures retailers can take to ensure their stores are as protected as possible. However, it would be wrong to assume that once in place, these precautions only need to be used during busy periods. When it comes to reducing shrinkage and ensuring merchandise availability, it should be a year round all-in project.