Tips on How Your Retail Organization Can Reduce Holiday Theft and Loss

Nov 5, 2023

The Holiday shopping season is here, and retailers will soon be navigating the annual Black Friday and Cyber Monday events. Stores will welcome thousands of visitors, most of which will be there to legitimately shop. However, there will most likely be a few bad actors and potential thieves looking to score as well. Retail crime is reportedly at an all-time high as numerous stories about retail theft and potential store closures populate the news. Unfortunately, to make things worse, this is also the time of year when a dramatic increase in crime and theft occurs. U.S. retailers lose billions of dollars in stolen goods each year, and approximately half of those losses occur during the holidays. While theft will occur in both good and bad times, the good news is that there are several ways retailers can combat this issue. The DHW Retail team has compiled some tips on how your retail organization can mitigate these losses from both internal and external sources during the holidays.

Control the Receiving Process. Employing a solid receiving team that can effectively work with vendors to ensure the accuracy of deliveries, quality of merchandise, and proper handling and storage of inventory can go a long way in preventing theft and inventory shrink.  Strive to build a solid receiving team that is accountable, well trained, and trustworthy to ensure operations begin on the right foot.

Scrutinize Coupons. Coupon theft usually occurs when there are “free” or large “dollar’s off” amounts involved with the purchase of certain merchandise. Train your sales staff and cashiers on how to identify and validate coupons of this nature and be sure to communicate these examples to others within the organization to ensure they are also on the lookout for rogue coupons.

Avoid Distraction Tactics. Distraction is one of the most common methods employed by thieves. The fast pace of the holiday season provides more opportunities for shoplifters to go unnoticed. The last thing a thief wants is to be noticed. Increasing the floor presence with individuals trained to greet each customer at the door or within their respective department sends a powerful signal to shoppers that their activities are being monitored.

Know the Items Stolen the Most. In many cases, store layout and proper placement of merchandise can go a long way in preventing theft.  Thieves often target high-dollar, easily concealed items such as batteries, razor blades, and certain food, drugs, or medications. Invest in the effort to identify items stolen most often and consider merchandising those products in a more conspicuous location or adjust surveillance to reduce opportunities for shoplifting.

Beware of Credit Card Fraud. With the increase in credit and debit card transactions during COVID and during the holiday season, we also see an elevated risk of fraud. As a retailer, it is important to first read and understand your card network guidelines with respect to the security measures you are expected to uphold for card transactions. From there, place a high priority on strong PCI compliance with hardware and point-of-sale (POS) systems. The last thing a retailer can afford is a data breach. We recommend conducting frequent spot checks on POS terminals for skimming or shimmer devices and consider switching to POS and software that accepts smart payment card (EMV) transactions as an added level of protection.

Prepare for Cybercrime. Many retailers offer online shopping or in some cases, have been forced to increase their web-presence as a result of the pandemic. If you conduct online transactions, be aware that hackers are constantly seeking opportunities to steal financial data. The best way to prevent attacks is to make sure your organization has the requisite firewalls and anti-virus software installed. In addition, ensure employees are properly trained on password protection and how to spot rogue e-mails or messaging that could be laced with harmful malware. Finally, consider having a professional organization “pressure test” your systems for risks and your organization’s vulnerability to a cyber-attack.

Monitor Self-Checkouts. Social distancing measures due to COVID-19 saw many retailers move to a contact-less checkout process. But, even before the pandemic, self-checkouts were gaining popularity with consumers from a convenience perspective, and with retailers as an opportunity to reduce overall labor costs even with the potential for increased theft. While an uptick in theft may occur with self-checkouts, having a properly trained, attentive employee on duty can significantly reduce theft as customers are less inclined to steal when an attendant is present. Security scales and scanner cameras that detect merchandise that has been improperly scanned or has bypassed the scanning process altogether can reduce theft. Clearing clutter from self-checkout areas, removing small, easily-concealed impulse items, and limiting excessive signage that might block the attendant’s line-of-sight, will also help reduce self-checkout theft.

Identify Counterfeit Currency. The significant increase in transactions during the holiday season may also mean that some retailers can also expect a corresponding increase in customers using counterfeit cash.  Fortunately, there are some great tools and technology that retailers can employ to spot the counterfeits such as UV lights, detection pens, magnetic ink detectors, infrared viewers, and machine-readable character devices.

Manage New Labor Wisely. An increase in sales and store traffic during the holiday shopping season generally requires an increased need for additional cashiers, sales floor associates, or stockers. While the increase in labor fills a need, it can sometimes bring issues related to theft or loss, particularly if retailers fail to follow certain protocols related to the hiring, training, and supervision of new or temporary employees. Maintain diligent hiring processes including thorough background checks for all new employees, especially for those handling financial transactions. In addition, strong supervision and thorough job training on the proper handling and storage of product can help prevent issues with accidents, spoilage, and damaged product that becomes unsalable or must be deeply discounted.

The holiday shopping season can be financially rewarding and represent a great time of the year to showcase your stores and potentially gain new customers. However, it can also bring added risk if retailers do not carefully plan and implement the requisite controls and measures to combat the potential for increased theft. We wish you a very successful holiday shopping season. To learn more about these and other theft and loss prevention tips, contact Tim Reynolds at or 828.322.2070.