Store managers walk a tightrope in their store presentation. They have to balance creating an attractive shopping environment that will bring back customers time and again with making sure that merchandise is secure from theft.
The one thing store managers cannot do is make the store environment resemble a high security wing at a prison. If all items are under total lock and key then the shopper cannot enjoy the sensory nature of touching, smelling or clearly seeing products, from cosmetics to clothing. The store environment has to be attractive to shoppers but unattractive to criminals.
The answer to this conundrum lies in ‘Visible Merchandise Protection’ (‘VMP’), a trend retailers are beginning to explore. VMP is a different approach to the traditional LP strategy whereby labels were discretely placed within the merchandise and shoppers were not informed that these items were protected.
Overt protection, that is, a visible Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) label, focuses on deterrence rather than trying to catch criminals. A VMP strategy is designed so that potential thieves will see that items are protected by an integrated system and will know that carrying products outside the store without deactivating the tags will set off alarms.
The move to VMP is driven by two key factors. First, a visible deterrent is much more cost effective in terms of return on investment than tying staff and security guards up in a strategy of chasing and convicting criminals who have tried to steal goods. Second, consumers are accepting of VMP if executed in the right way.
Anti-theft devices should be designed and placed so they do not impact on the brand’s image. To avoid any impact on the branding, some retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers still choose covert labelling and fully hide the EAS label within the packaging. They apply the label at source, either at the point of manufacture or DC, and are given proper guidance on how to place the label to ensure detection and deactivation are optimised at point of sale (POS) and point of exit.
The new trend, especially in the cosmetics and health and beauty business, is clear labels. Transparent labels do not affect the brand image and some CPG manufacturers are even leaving a “safe spot” on packaging for source tagging. This avoids covering the product, product information (such as ingredients or instructions for use) and the brand itself.
Many retailers in Europe and in the US are already benefiting from applying clear EAS labels containing an RF circuit to the actual item or the packaging. The labels work as a shoplifting deterrent when combined with a recognisable generic product protection symbol (a lock) on the packaging.
The addition of well-sited store signage warning that merchandise is protected creates an integrated, effective security system. Research conducted at a Fortune 50 retailer found that 90 per cent of its store managers believe external clear labels are a powerful deterrent (source: EAS Source Tagging Planning Guide).
The elements of a VMP system include clear labels, deactivators at point-of-sale and antennae to monitor exits and other vulnerable store access points. These elements can work alongside a variety of visible EAS solutions, such as hard tags, plastic safers or keepers and spider wraps.
A VMP system can be most valuable for products that are CRAVED: easily Concealed, easily Removable, openly Available, Valuable, Enjoyable and Disposable. These are the top-selling and so targeted SKUs – for instance, cosmetics, razor blades, skin and hair care, batteries, etc. Higher ticket items also on the shoplifters’ list, from luxury goods and accessories to premium wines, can be similarly protected.
There are different challenges related to food & beverage sectors, apparel/luxury and cosmetics, in terms of choosing the best protection. However, whether retailers opt for a keeper solution or a luxury hard tag created to fit with the design of the $1000 champagne bottle, the accompanying task of protecting fast turnover, high value items can be made smoother and swifter by application at source rather than engaging retail staff on the shop floor to do the job.
Protective Not Punitive
If one half of the equation is having the right tools for overt protection, then the other half is having shopper buy-in. Store managers can find reassurance in a Nielsen study that shows consumers approve and welcome such loss prevention solutions. The Perception of the Protection and Security Elements of Products demonstrates that shoppers understand the value exchange that lies in VMP:
- They know that if less goods are stolen they will benefit from lower item prices.
- They are more likely to find the items they want in stock if theft is minimised.
- They feel they are in a secure and safe environment where thieves are not roaming who might directly threaten them.
To be fully comfortable with visible security shoppers prefer that the system deployed must be more protective than punitive. Consumers dislike any system that might have elements of ‘entrapment’ and also any kind of format that might embarrass an innocent shopper. Any protection that obstructs them from handling goods, damages the item concerned or that slows down and interferes with the shopping experience is also frowned upon.
There is also a consumer consensus that that any protection system should be highlighted on-pack as well as by signage, even if the RF label itself is not visible.
There are some extra benefits to the use of clear EAS labels. They do not have an impact on branding and their presence helps reinforce the perception that the item is valuable – and therefore desirable. There is also a halo effect on lower value, non-protected SKUs, as there is a strong possibility that potential thieves will think they carry covert protection.
Retailers yet to trial VMP should consider dipping a toe in the water and a good first step is to protect the SKUs that contribute to the biggest portion of sales revenue. The help this gives to keeping shelves stocked ensures that customers will keep coming back for an enjoyable retail experience.