New You can now listen to Carrier Management articles!

Imagining how shoppers might use a space is core to retailers’ bottom line, and one veteran store designer from HFA Architecture + Engineering recommends they do the same with thieves.

“Good store designers know to put themselves in their customer’s shoes,” writes James Owens AIA, NCARB in a column for RetailTouchPoints.

Today’s growing problem of shrink “calls for a sharper focus on the ‘journey’ of another group entirely—retail criminals,” he added.

In the piece, “Three Design Tips for Fighting Shrink,” the HFA vice president encourages store designers to consider the following questions:

  1. 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?
  2. What are the most customer-friendly ways to protect high-value items from smash-and-grabs?
  3. How can we better integrate the latest anti-theft technologies and loss-prevention research into our store designs from the outset?

Owens’ firm has provided architecture, design and/or engineering services to Walmart, Target, T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom and Walgreens.

He says the skills developed on the consumer side can be reapplied to the fight against retail crime.

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

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 noted. “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 feel watched at all times, he added.

The retailer might need tougher measures for more brazen thieves, such as tethering high-value items to cables or storing more merchandise in lock boxes, behind the counter or back of house.

Centralizing lockboxes closer to where associates spend most of their time could reduce customer frustration due to longer wait times.

He encourages designers to stay apprised of the latest technology tools created to fight shrink and points to The University of Florida’s Loss Prevention Research Council as a valuable resource.

Given the severity of retail crime today, Owens encourages designers working on new or redesigned stores to be part of the loss-prevention conversation much earlier. This could help them harmonize twin goals—deterring crooks and preserving the customer experience.

“The two are not always in conflict,” he said. “Open, light-filled, high-visibility store environments are harder to steal from without being seen, and they also happen to be more pleasing to shop.”