How to implement smarter employee theft detection

No retail business wants to believe that they might be subject to theft from their own employees. Unfortunately, it is a very real problem. It might be stealing items on their person, or exploiting employee discount privileges to significantly reduce the price – either way, employee theft can account for as much as 28 per cent of unexplained inventory loss globally, according to the recent Global Theft Barometer Report.

In order to prevent it, it is first important for employers to be aware why employees might feel the temptation to steal – from financial pressures in their personal lives, to general disgruntlement with their employers. But irrespective of the emotional reason that causes employees to consider stealing, it all boils down to something very simple: they think they can get away with it.

Deterring employee theft

A deterrence, of course, breaks the urge to do so. Whilst establishing predetermined consequences of theft will of course work to an extent, implementing a sophisticated detection system is arguably the most effective deterrent. Prevention is the best form of protection when it comes to retail shrinkage.

Now, the use of video surveillance and basic security tagging has long been the solution for many businesses. But just as online data and payment breaches have become more sophisticated, so has physical shoplifting. Traditional technological solutions are still effective to a point in terms of uncovering thefts as they happen, or as a means of evidence should a prosecution be put forward. But there are workarounds that are difficult to catch. For example, video cameras have blind spots, as well as the fact that their use is reliant on either someone watching at the time a theft is carried out, or manually trawling through hours of footage to confirm a suspicion.

How to tackle employee theft

By turning to advanced technological solutions, employers can become far more accurate and effective in detecting and preventing employee shoplifting.

How? By integrating a real-time inventory solution as part of anti-theft procedure. This entails having smart electronic price tags on each product, which works in unison with a controller software that displays live information to a central hub.

Retailers can immediately see the true status of their inventory. If there is a suspicion that an employee has stolen an item, employers can quickly fire up live inventory data to help back up their investigations as to any missing products. In a moment, you can determine how many items of a certain SKU should be on the shop floor, before discovering first-hand if that is indeed the case. If that suspicion is correct, the more traditional security methods may be able to back it up. Similarly, if an employee is using their staff privileges to scan more expensive items and make them cheaper, the technology within the price tag and inventory management will detect this.

Instant visibility

The key here is that employers have instant visibility to the data they need. Additionally, analysis of this data over a longer period of time can help to detect suspicious patterns within their inventory management – otherwise recurring ‘anomalies’ potentially caused by employee theft will get lost. If a company is still reliant on paper trails and manual inventory checks, it makes that much easier for theft to be disguised as human errors or ‘unexplained’ and written off as a result. By tracking the movement of SKUs in real-time, data analysis will reveal the point where the numbers no longer tally as expected.

But of course, the benefits of such systems extend beyond anti-theft measures. There are electronic price tags available, for example, that are far more sophisticated than the traditional combination of clunky RFID security tags and a separate price tag. Advancements in the technology mean they can indeed be used to track inventory and theft, but can also allow dynamic pricing that enables retailers to change the price of entire lines remotely in an instant – an all-in-one functionality price tag.

Implementing such a technology can integrate anti-theft measures as part of an overall omnichannel approach that can significantly improve retail businesses’ dynamism and flexibility in general operation. Having a more efficient, accurate and effective means to deter employee theft is just one of many benefits.

In an industry where shrinkage is alarmingly common, costing companies millions every year, lost stock through undetected employee theft is one of the most sensitive contributory factors. However, by being ambitious and open to a greater reliance on technological solutions, businesses will see their shrinkage fall and their profits climb.

Minna Nurmisalo