Retail Theft is Rising: How Right-Fit Training Can Protect Frontline Workers—And Your Bottom Line

By Carol Leaman, CEO and Co-Founder, Axonify

Despite locking away certain products, limiting self-checkout options and implementing body camera technology in stores, theft remains a growing problem for many retailers today. Capital One recently found that retailers lost $121.6 billion from shoplifting last year and could lose $150 billion by 2026.

Theft isn’t limited to certain brands or locations retailers across the board are being affected in some capacity. My company, Axonify, found that 85% of frontline retail managers in the U.S. believe theft and customer hostility are growing issues within the sector. Given both of these issues are prevalent in today’s retail stores, frontline workers are often coming face-to-face with potent threats.

While my company’s research found that two-thirds of frontline retail managers are boosting training on theft prevention and interference, more learning and development opportunities are required to not only properly handle theft but to create a safer in-store experience for both shoppers and workers.

As theft strategies grow more sophisticated, the need for equally advanced, non-intrusive security solutions becomes paramount. Right training can help frontline workers ssafely handle theft and customer hostility.

- Carol Leaman, CEO and Co-Founder, Axonify

The Current State of Retail Theft

How the Right Training Can Help Frontline Workers Safely Handle Theft and Customer Hostility

This approach not only prevents theft but does so without requiring direct employee intervention, thereby reducing the risk of confrontations and violence.

The company’s success, underscored by its robust patent portfolio and global deployment across over 50 countries, signals a transformative shift in retail loss prevention. As theft strategies grow more sophisticated, the need for equally advanced, non-intrusive security solutions becomes paramount.

Whether it’s a single stolen item or part of a more sophisticated organized retail crime operation, the impact is unavoidable. Axonify found that seven in 10 frontline retail managers say that they and their staff have noticed incidents of theft increase over the past year, and 41% report that their store has experienced organized crime.

Sadly, the loss of products and revenue are far from the only issues. Addressing theft can be a dangerous feat, which has led 47% of frontline workers to consider quitting their jobs over a lack of safety. Instances of theft have escalated so much that 40% of retailers have had to resort to boarding up windows and doors to deter crime, and 54% have had to hire external security to better protect those inside their stores.

While lawmakers in states like New York and California are introducing new legislation to combat theft, industry leaders are sparking more conversations about the issue, and 61% of frontline managers are locking down more products. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough.

To truly increase safety and support associates, retailers need to invest in stronger training initiatives to help frontline retail workers better spot instances of theft and follow a clear company protocol. The right training can ensure a worker is prepared to take the appropriate steps, de-escalate a situation, and reach out for any additional support, in the moment of need instead of being left unsure of how to handle the situation.

Make Learning Engaging and Continuous

If you consider a regular shift in the life of a retail associate, there’s already a lot to manage: working the cash register, maintaining inventory, interacting with customers, learning about new promotions and more. Add to an already-full plate the crucial responsibility of spotting instances of theft or suspicious behavior. To ensure these workers have the most up-to-date knowledge about what to look for and how to handle each situation retailers should offer continuous training that includes information about how retail theft is evolving, and how to keep staff and others safe while handling the incident.

But simply delivering this training isn’t enough. To ensure the information sticks, it needs to be engaging, relevant and easy-to-consume. One way to achieve this is by offering learning in bite-sized pieces, which employees can access for a few minutes at a time over the course of their shift. This method gives them the flexibility to learn in the flow of work and allows training to span their tenure at the organization (instead of only happening once when they’re onboarding as a new hire or when new policies are introduced).

This is only the beginning. For example, hands-on activities and interactions are key learning methods for many. Using simulation training t is an ideal format that allows workers to safely step into real-world scenarios and practice customer interactions. To suit others’ preferred learning methods, making video and interactive mobile content available can help boost engagement and participation.

Regardless of which methods are used, the bottom line is that retailers need to prioritize training for frontline workers as part of their strategic response to retail theft. By ensuring workers have the most up-to-date knowledge on theft and internal de-escalation methods, they will feel more confident identifying instances of theft and help keep the business intact and, most importantly, people safe.

MAY 2024