Stemming the tide of shrink by theft is not an easy task. It is a delicate balance of making the product difficult to steal, but still be accessible to paying customers. The most common solution is to put high priced items in a locked case, but this greatly reduces the ease with which a customer can buy it. If there is not a staff member readily available, some customers will give up and leave without purchasing.

Anti-theft fixtures can be quite an investment, so what should you be looking for in an anti-theft device and what features should you avoid? We will present two cases: one bad, and one good to help you think through how these fixtures would work in a store environment. Through these cases, you can better assess any fixtures you might be considering before making the big purchase.

Anti-theft, or Anti-sales?

Here is a case of good anti-theft intentions gone awry. This system has a clear plastic door that covers the high-theft items but does not lock. The customer needs to lift the door upward to get to the product. It is a tight fit and is designed to make it difficult to pull more than one product at a time off the shelf. If the door is held open for more than a few seconds, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker: “Manager assistance needed in Health & Beauty… manager assistance needed in Health & Beauty.

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On the surface, this seems to meet both standards of deterring theft and allowing customers to shop. The doors deter theft by making it difficult to grab several items quickly and alerting the whole store that help is on the way to their location. The customer can still select an item from the shelf without assistance. In practice, however, the doors didn’t quite work as intended.

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Customers were confused by the doors, and some were unaware that they were not locked. Some customers would walk away not wanting to bother to find someone to help them, and others wandered the aisles looking for an associate to help. Those customers were usually a bit sheepish or annoyed when informed they could just lift the doors themselves.  Additionally, without having two good hands free, they actually couldn’t get to an item unassisted. One hand was required to lift the door, and another to reach in and retrieve the snug-fitting item.

On the theft-deterrent side, the doors still made it difficult to make a quick getaway with multiple items, but the overhead announcement quickly became background noise instead of an alarm. Clerks stocking the shelves would set off the alarm with each item they were stocking. At first, managers and team members would make haste to the section being pointed out by the alarm, only to find an associate stocking the shelf, or a customer struggling to get a product. Eventually, it fell into what I call the “Car Alarm effect.” The effect similar to when you hear a car alarm go off, you never assume someone is trying to steal a car, but more likely someone accidentally brushed up against the side of the car. The noise is an annoyance, nothing more. Pretty soon the store staff learned to ignore the overhead message, and it became completely ineffective. In the end, the doors were deterring sales and annoying customers more than they were preventing theft.

Anatomy of a Great Anti-theft Fixture

Not that we’ve shown what to avoid in anti-theft fixtures, we’ll give you an example of a great anti-theft fixture.

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This razor blade refill endcap was a prime target for theft. The high price of the refills combined with the small and pocketable packaging make for a tempting combination.  The store’s first line of defense was putting all the razor refills up at the front register, in a high traffic area where there are many store staffers to deter theft. It was a great idea, but when lines get long, people get distracted, and a thief can take advantage.

These security pegs work on a lot of levels. First, customers can easily see the blades are not locked, and there are clear instructions to turn the knob and release the product. The coil inside works much like a vending machine, and after a few turns, the product falls off the peg. If a customer is still confused about how to work the mechanism, they are up at the most frequently used register, and can have an answer quickly.

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When the knob is turned, it makes a loud clicking sound. The refill blades go on the device in a fairly even manner, and therefore it predictably takes about three or four turns to release a product. The cashiers will get used to hearing one product be taken off, but will likely be alerted if the sound continues for more than a few turns. Anyone getting more than one blade will likely be noticed.

Even better, the mechanism makes a much softer noise when the product is being loaded on, so when a clerk is refilling the fixture it doesn’t desensitize the staff to the noise.  Overall, the location, ease of use, and loud sound make this a great investment for an anti-theft fixture.

Questions to Answer Before Investing in an Anti-theft System

  • Does the fixture have clear directions for the customer on how to get to the product?
  • Is the fixture easily accessible by paying customers?
  • Does the fixture have an alarm or alerting sound that only triggers due to suspicious activity- not to normal use or stocking?
  • Does the fixture effectively discourage customers from taking more than one item at a time?

Answering these questions will help you decide if a particular anti-theft system is right for your stores. Do you have a story of an anti-theft fail? Do you have an anti-theft fixture that you love? Let us know in the comments!