I worked in Retail Loss Prevention for many years and during that time I had a lot of opportunities to stop shoplifting as the result of an electronic article surveillance alarm set off by a tagged piece of merchandise. Today I work in a library but still deal with alarms when patrons set them off as they exit or enter our building. The alarms are sometimes caused by items that are tagged but the tags have not been properly deactivated. In other cases it is the result of someone trying to sneak library materials out in order to steal them (sounds a lot like shoplifting doesn’t it?). It is necessary to investigate and resolve the source of any alarm until it is satisfactorily resolved. Just a few days ago a student was leaving the building and as she walked through our towers the alarm sounded. I used my Loss Prevention experience to stop the patron and talk to her about what may have caused the activation.

Whether it is a college library or a store, electronic article surveillance labels can prevent merchandise and property from being improperly removed from a building. In the case of a retail business those labels can make the difference between a profitable and successful enterprise and one that struggles. Sensormatic labels can prevent thieves from stealing but even with a system as good as Sensormatic’s a store must have employees available to respond to alarms. Those employees must also have the proper training to approach shoppers who set off alarms and the know how to resolve the alarms. It is not as easy as it may sound. I would like to offer some tips from my own experience so you can train your employees to identify what has set off an electronic article surveillance alarm system.

An employee who approaches a customer that has set off an alarm should never begin the interaction assuming the customer was trying to steal something. The attitude exhibited by the employee influences the way the customer will respond. I have found that by making a statement that indicates a mistake happened rather than an attempted theft can calm a patron almost immediately.  I will say something like, “Uh-oh, our system must not have deactivated a tag properly, I’m sorry.” 

I then begin the process of determining the cause of the alarm. In a store I will ask if the patron has made a purchase. If they say they did I ask if they could show me a receipt? If the patron said they bought something but they don’t have the receipt I ask if I can look in their bag. I follow up by asking what register they went through and after reviewing the transactions if I cannot locate the item I tell the customer we must have accidentally missed the item as we were scanning. No, I’m not throwing the cashier under the bus, I am giving the person an “out” so it does not appear I am accusing them of theft. 

If a look through a shopping bag does not reveal the cause of the alarm a bit if finesse will be required. You may have to try to get a peak in a purse, backpack or tote and that can be more difficult. People don’t like to have their personal belongings rummaged through. I like to say something that will make the person feel like I am helping them. If they have multiple bags I will suggest they walk one bag through the tower at a time. Through the process of elimination I find the bag that has the active tag in it. I then diffuse the situation further. I mention that I have had customers forget and put an item in a purse to see if it would fit (such as a wallet) and forget they put it in. Again, providing a ready-made excuse for the customer makes it easier to get an item back or the person to pay for it, I have encountered both. I also tell customers that sometimes people make purchases at other stores with electronic article surveillance systems and they fail to deactivate tags and it can set off our system.

A skilled employee who has been trained can stop shoplifting and even prevent unintentional missed merchandise from leaving the store.

If you don’t currently have a Sensormatic system in your store I strongly encourage you to get one. You will stop shoplifting and as you do you will see your instocks improve. THAT drives sales and profits. As evidence that my tips work, in the case of the library alarm, the student had two books in her backpack that she had forgotten about. I got them checked out and the student went on her way.


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