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Retailers Should ID ‘Core Shoplifters,’ Architect Advises

Store designers and their clients can use data to battle shrink, says HFA’s James Owens.




Retailers Should ID ‘Core Shoplifters,’ Architect Advises
PHOTOGRAPHY: Andrey Popov/

In addition to imagining how shoppers might use a space, retailers need to think more deeply about how guests or employees can steal from it, advises a veteran store designer from HFA Architecture + Engineering (Bentonville, Ark.).

“Good store designers know to put themselves in their customer’s shoes,” writes James Owens (AIA, NCARB) in a column for RetailTouchPoints. But today’s growing problem of shrink “calls for a sharper focus on the ‘journey’ of another group entirely—retail criminals.”

In the piece (“Three Design Tips for Fighting Shrink”), the HFA vice president encourages store designers to start putting more emphasis on questions such as:

  • What more can be done to deter theft using store layout, customer flow, shelf height, mirrors, lighting and the placement of gondolas, merchandise and security cameras?
  • What are the most customer-friendly ways to protect high-value items from smash-and-grabs?
  • How can we better integrate the latest anti-theft technologies and loss-prevention research into our store designs from the outset?

Owens, whose firm has provided architecture, design and/or engineering services to Walmart, Target, T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom, Walgreens and others, observes that skills developed on the consumer side can also applied to the fight against retail crime.

For example, after studying how different groups shop and move through a store, architects with patron experience-focused Matchstick by HFA might develop segmented customer profiles like “Empty Nester Dad,” “Single Female in the City” or “Budget-Conscious Retiree.”

In similar fashion, store designers could work with retailers to determine whether their biggest shrink problems come from “Brazen Smash-and-Grabbers” or quieter, five-finger discounts pulled off by “Sheepish Teens” or “Disgruntled Employees.”


“Thieves do not exactly use the POS system, sign up for loyalty cards or freely offer their mobile numbers to get discounts,” Owens writes. “But internal investigations, third-party studies by loss-prevention experts and deep dives into security footage could provide useful data, including greater clarity into a retailer’s ‘core shoplifters,’ store by store.”

More risk-averse shoplifters could be deterred by brighter lighting, lower shelves, sign-free windows or panopticon-like layouts in which they always feel watched. However, if brazen thievery is the problem, the retailer might need tougher measures, such as tethering high-value items to cables, or storing more merchandise in lock boxes, behind the counter or back of house.

Click here for more from Owens’ column.



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