I write a lot about the benefits of using labels to protect merchandise from theft but I realized I do not necessarily do an adequate job of providing guidance on how to respond to electronic article surveillance alarms. I am going to spend some time in the article talking to you about the do’s and don’ts of alarm activations. It may sound like it is easy to do but issues can arise if an employee does it incorrectly.
You may be new to the world of electronic article surveillance (EAS) and how it works so before I go too far into my article I am going to delve into it a bit here. Electronic article surveillance is used to protect merchandise through radio wave transmissions. EAS labels come in several versions but are basically peel off labels with circuitry built into them. The circuitry sends out a radio wave on a specific frequency and this radio wave can be picked up by EAS pedestals which are receivers. The pedestals are located near store entrances/exits or areas where merchandise is not to be taken into. When a tag has not been de-sensitized at a point of sale and the merchandise it is attached to is carried too close to a pedestal an alarm sounds. It is this alarm that requires a response and if a store is doing everything properly alarms will result in merchandise recoveries. In this way EAS labels prevent shoplifters from stealing merchandise in stores where training is a focus.
I am sure there are some of you out there who are wondering how anyone could mess up a response to an alarm pedestal. There are a several ways to do this and I think I can safely say that over my 27 years in retail and Retail Loss Prevention I have probably seen most of them. To respond to an alarm activation properly store employees must:
• Be trained – I have watched employees just walk up and look into a customer’s bag and start rifling through it looking for the piece of merchandise the caused a problem. You have to be sure that employees responding to EAS label alarms understand they have to respect the rights of the customer. The customer has the right to refuse to allow someone to look through their personal belongings. A store may reserve the right to look through a store shopping bag but it better be clearly posted in plain view. The approach to getting someone to give permission is key to having a successful deterrent program.
• This leads to my next point an employee must be personable and friendly when approaching someone who has activated an alarm. One thing that happens is that an employee may approach someone who is standing at a door waiting for a responder following an alarm. The customer waiting may not have been the one to activate the alarm. If multiple people are leaving about the same time, one person may set off the alarm carrying merchandise with active EAS labels on them. The person who set off the alarm continued to walk out while an innocent person may just be trying to make sure they did not cause the alarm. Walking up to that person and treating them like a shoplifter can lead to all sorts of problems. Politeness and tact are going to resolve alarms and in the majority of cases result in the recovery of merchandise.
• An employee responding to alarm activations has to be able to give excuses to a potential shoplifter. What I mean is this, when responding to a pedestal alarm if someone IS trying to steal there is a better chance of getting merchandise back if the responder can say words like, “Is there something in your bag the cashier may have overlooked?” or, “Sometimes people get their hands full and accidently put things in their pockets or purses intending to take it out and forget they had it until they get to the door.” Being smart and diplomatic can pay off in a big way.
• A responder must also be able to deal with angry and upset patrons. Someone attempting to steal may try to display an attitude and act indignant in order to embarrass or intimidate the employee and get them to just send them out the door. Training should include how to de-escalate a tense situation without giving in to the temptation to just get the person out the door. An employee who gets tense or angry can make a situation explosive.
How your team responds to alarms can be the difference between antagonizing people and making substantial recoveries. Follow these suggestions and you can be sure you are optimizing your electronic article surveillance pedestals and tags and staying profitable.
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