All the stories I’ll ever need are right here on Main Street,” wrote author Robert Cormier. The fact that Mr. Cormier had a proclivity for penning unhappy endings for his characters may seem prophetic for the things encountered on today’s volatile Main Street.
Main Street faces many challenges and these issues often intersect with retail establishments. As pseudo public gathering places, retail stores and restaurants often see the latest social issues played out near or inside of their businesses. On all levels of the organization, we have become the stewards of not only merchandise, sales, and customer service, but also of public sentiment, unrest, and concern.
Looking back, it seems the “Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays” debate was a minor issue compared to the bigger social discussions we face today. Or perhaps that debate, and deciding how to walk the fine line that best services our customers, was a predictor for the bigger things to come.
I don’t envy today’s store associate, manager, or loss prevention agent. The simple process of “doing one’s job,” and the easy mandate of “smile and be nice to the customer,” are no longer so simple or so easy.
Corporate staff has found that product purchase and placement is only a part of their decision-making process, as they too must decide on the instructions provided to navigate potential in-store issues and response— from both their customers and their employees.
The winds of consumer predilection can blow hard, fast, and often change direction with a single social media post. It’s often difficult to stay out of the fray when your business is on Main Street.
Tougher still is the very fact that the division of opinions often fall evenly across the consumer base. Any decision in favor or against the most current topic of contention is certain to alienate half the customer base. And perhaps, the greatest challenge of all is that the social issues at hand are often tolerance tested in the most public and available gathering places—retail.
There is little doubt that 2016 will require a strategic plan that deals both with the changing environment and one that considers future, potential issues.
In Loss Prevention, where safety is a key concern, we face a number of challenges. Such as a rise in Organized Retail Crime, that requires a more advanced approach to a more sophisticated and costly shoplifting problem.
We are also confronted with changing opinions on the best training for Active Shooter events. A type of training that calls, in some cases, for “attack” over “retreat.” A situation made ever more complicated as we consider the implications of future terrorist attacks in public settings.
In addition, as states move to or consider the move to “open carry,” Loss Prevention departments will need to decide if and how that change impacts their approach to shoplifter apprehensions. Companies will need to determine how they will deal with the visual presence of weapons in their businesses.
Internally we will watch very real economic issues strain our budgets and push us to even greater efficiency with issues such as potential minimum wage increases, health care costs, potential recession, and e-shopping implications.
Previously I wrote an article titled, The New Loss Prevention. Even knowing in that piece that Loss Prevention would be required to move to smarter, more efficient, and better methods, one could not have predicted the changing landscape or how social media could potentially place every decision, both good and bad, on the internet for public scrutiny; from shoplifter apprehensions to cyber hacking.
None of the old challenges have gone away. Shoppers continue to steal, as do some employees, robberies and burglaries still occur, safety and fraud are still concerns, and shrink reduction is still the major objective. There are however, the newer and greater challenges that require more extensive planning, even larger efforts, and even smarter approaches. All potentially played out in front of a watching public armed with Facebook accounts and Smart phones. All with the potential to create either chaos or congratulations.
As the year progresses, we’ll visit many of these issues, we’ll discuss the new-best practices, and we’ll find ways to create the New Loss Prevention required to traverse the many and complicated stories on Main Street.
Happy New Year
By Ray Esposito