2013: A Retail Odyssey

In 2013, retailers will be faced with many challenges, and one that is sure to dominate discussions in the year ahead is technology. From mobile payments to theft deterrents to tools for driving customer loyalty, technology figures prominently in the retail environment in 2013 and beyond. This, combined with economic uncertainty, underlies the growing need for retailers to step up efforts to gain a competitive edge and drive customer loyalty while protecting their bottom line from loss as a result of theft. Pick up any newspaper, or, as is more likely, click through the headlines online, and it is virtually guaranteed that mobility is among the day’s hot topics. Retail technologies, including mobile payments, are developing so quickly, in fact, that Retail Systems Research (RSR) declares that, “2013 promises to be the most disruptive year yet for consumer payment options.” Retailers, RSR says, are at risk of being rendered irrelevant if they are unable to keep up with technology.

Investments in mobile retail technology in 2013 will include mobile POS, development and widespread adoption of loyalty applications, and employees armed with mobile devices and capabilities to enhance the customer experience by offering on-the-spot inventory status and in-aisle payments. Of course, with the adoption of mobility in retail comes the need to ensure data is secure at the point of sale and well beyond. Retailers will increasingly face the challenge of driving customers to stores and creating customer experiences that bring them back time and again. To this end, technology will be essential in 2013, and retailers simply cannot afford to be left behind. Now is the time to determine what is necessary and feasible for your operation. Equally important is the need to protect the bottom line from losses due to organized retail crime (ORC), shoplifting and employee theft.

According to the National Retail Security Survey, shrink cost retailers more than $34 billion in 2011, with shoplifting accounting for over one-third of losses and employee theft making up a hefty 43.9 percent, or just over $15 billion. There is growing evidence that retailers are increasing their focus and spending on loss prevention technologies to prevent theft and drive down shrink rates. Some examples of the technologies currently being used to fight theft include video surveillance and video analytics and monitoring, RFID, electronic article surveillance (EAS) and intrusion detection. Given the current economic climate, now is the time for retailers to build upon these efforts to combat theft. In fact, retailers will need to find more innovative ways to address loss as a result of theft in 2013. Networked video, for example, can send and receive data via the IP network, so images can be accessed anywhere, any time. They can be shared with management, team members or law enforcement, enabling immediate response to issues. Place them at the point of sale and throughout the store to monitor customer as well as employee activity.

While it is common practice to keep high-value items behind glass, out of reach or in unwieldy packaging, this can be frustrating for shoppers and often leads to abandoned purchases. Shelf-mounted cameras, however, are a highly effective alternative in areas with high-risk products that are often targeted by shoplifters and ORC groups. Small and versatile, they can be placed where thieves can see them so they know they are being watched. If this fails to deter would-be shoplifters, the cameras provide clear images and face shots. As helpful as these advancements can be, however, it is often true that the most traditional methods are the most effective. Tasking more employees with maintaining a physical presence on the floor can reduce the need for protective devices to deter theft. Not only does this enhance the customer experience, it increases thieves’ awareness that their activities are being observed. This, in combination with investments in security technologies, can help reduce incidents of theft and loss.

Looking ahead, there is no need for a crystal ball when it comes to retail as uncertainties abound. One thing that is certain is a growing dependence on technology. In the coming year, retailers must adapt or risk falling behind their competitors who embrace technology to enhance the customer experience and strengthen the bottom line.

Andrew Wren is CEO of Wren Solutions, a loss prevention technology provider helping leading retailers reduce loss and increase profits. Wren is responsible for corporate and product strategy, leveraging his more than two decades of security technology expertise. To learn more about Wren Solutions, visit www.wrensolutions.com.