Monday, May 10, 2010

Retail Shrinkage - Where Does it Go?

In doing my research for a presentation on Inventory Management I'm giving at the ASTRA Marketplace next month, I found this interesting little statistic from the National Retail Federation.

Total shrinkage in the retail sector in 2008 was about 1.52% of gross sales. That's $1.52 out of every $100 that mysteriously disappears.

More interestingly, almost half of that shrinkage (44%) is caused by your own employees, either walking out the back door in their pockets or sliding out the front door through consumer-friendly transactions.

Shoplifting accounts for about 35% of that total and accounting errors make up most of the rest.

I showed this to one of my staff members who was amazed. She couldn't believe that our employees (her coworkers) would do this. I reassured her that, although they might do some, our shrinkage was only 0.44% of sales the past two years (up from 0.27% in 2007 - sign of the economy?). We're doing much better than the average retailer.

Here is something to ponder... Wal-Mart has also traditionally done well with a shrinkage rate at only half the national average. How is that possible?

It would seem they would be ripe for theft. Their reputation for how they treat their employees would seem like fertile ground for some "entitlement". Some of their limited income customers might be tempted to partake in a few five-finger discounts, too. Plus, the limited interaction between customers and staff, the huge, cavernous store with plenty of hiding spaces, and the vast quantity of product seems like a recipe for high shrinkage.

Add it all up and their results seem all the more surprising. But the answer is simple. The power to keep the shoplifters away resides in the blue-vested gray hairs standing inside every door.

What is the one thing shoplifters crave most of all? Anonymity. Not being seen or recognized. Recognition is the buzzkill for all but the serial professional shoplifters. Being seen strikes fear in the heart of the amateurs and down-on-their-luck would-be thieves.

Fortunately, we all can learn from this. The lesson is simple...

Greet your customers. Each and every one of them. Not just with a shout-out as you hide behind the cashwrap, but with a sincere "thanks for stopping by," the kind of greeting you would give your best friend.

Not only is it a good way to start a conversation that could lead to a sale, but it is the single biggest deterrent to shoplifting.

And now you know why Wal-Mart has all those greeters. It wasn't to protect them from age-discrimination lawsuits after all.

-Phil

PS I've got some ideas about how to stop employee theft, too. Will post them soon.

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