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How Do Mystery Shoppers Help Reduce Loss Prevention

If your store is suffering from loss and shrinkage — the polite term for shoplifting, employee theft, and even bad inventory management — you can help reduce it with mystery shoppers.

We’re not saying mystery shoppers should serve as store security or undercover theft prevention. Rather, they can help you find any holes or lax procedures that may be contributing to some of these problems.

In a normal day, mystery shoppers will visit a business, make a purchase, check the cleanliness of the bathrooms, confirm whether certain promotional items are in place, whether the staff was friendly, and so on.

So it’s possible to create a loss prevention program just by doing some of these same checks, plus you get the added bonus of seeing whether your stores are meeting your expectations and requirements.

A shoplifting sign shouldn't be your only loss prevention methodTo start with, are customers greeted as soon as they walk in the door? Do they check in with customers who are “just browsing?” I’ll admit, some shoppers can be pretty mean and cutting to the store staff. They’ll snarl at the retail associates and demand they be left alone. (And then they complain when no one falls all over themselves to help them.) But don’t let a few mean people take the wind out of your associates’ sails — make sure they check in with each and every shopper who comes through your doors, and check in with them more than once. If potential shoplifters think they’re being watched, they’re less likely to try to steal something.

Are your valuable items locked up? I know men can’t pick out their own replacement razor blades without going through a background check and clearing two security checkpoints (I’m exaggerating!), but I’ve seen other valuable items left unattended when they’re supposed to be locked up. And I once watched a shoplifter walk into a store, grab an armful of leather coats, and walk out again. It was only the store manager following the shoplifter that made him drop the coats. A mystery shopper can go into a store and see if the more valuable merchandise is locked up.

Is there at least one associate on the floor? Not ringing someone up, actually watching the floor. A lot of stores make the mistake of having only one employee available when things get really slow. This is a bad idea from a security personal safety standpoint anyway, but it also means that you have fewer eyes watching the incoming shoppers. If one associate is ringing up people’s purchases, they’re not actually watching what’s happening on the floor, and that inattentiveness can give shoplifters a chance to grab and go.

Do you have a bag checkin? Some stores have gotten strict about allowing people to bring large bags into their stores, and will check their bags behind the counters. I’ll admit, it’s annoying to be asked to check my bag if I walk into a store, but I also understand why it has to be done. Check people’s bags and return them as soon as the shoppers leave the store. (It also doesn’t hurt to check your associates’ bags when they clock out; a lot of stores do this.)

Are you doing any internal investigations? Some retail HR departments will sometimes hire mystery shoppers to help gather evidence into any kind of internal investigation. For example, a store with high shrinkage might have mystery shoppers look for anything unusual within the store, such as associates not following certain procedures or improperly processing returns. A mystery shopper could buy some items, document and return them, and management can compare those returns and see if everything was done properly or if something is amiss.

While mystery shoppers are not necessarily loss prevention security officers, they can at least help you detect a pattern of misbehavior or even just negligence among your staff. Based on their findings, you can make any staff changes, beef up your training, or even create new policies and procedures to deter shoplifting and shrinkage.

To learn more about mystery shopping and loss prevention, please visit the Measure CP website. You can speak with one of our retail experts and learn more about how we can help you reduce shrinkage in your stores.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)